I was tired. I was planning to go to bed early that evening and really didn't feel like talking to anyone. I responded by saying I was getting ready for bed, but then thought about the person sending the text. It was Jasmine and she didn't seem like the type who would want to talk to me about something pointless. "Is everything all right?" I text'd. "Not really," she replied. "I just wanted help. I'm so sorry."
When I tried calling, her cousin said she was crying so hard she couldn't talk. My mind immediately went through all of the worst that I know about some of my teens. Did she kill someone?? Is her mom pimping her out?? Is she selling drugs?? Is she pregnant?? My mind raced.
I continued trying to communicate with her through texts. She said she was going to quit coming to Teen U but wouldn't say why. She said if she told us why, we'd never look at her the same. I explained all of my former interactions with and knowledge about teenagers (some mentioned above) and told her I was still in contact with those teens. I tried to assure her I wouldn't look at her differently. "It's not that bad!" she replied. But I still couldn't get her to talk.
After an hour of texting back and forth, Jasmine finally called. Even then, all I could get out of her was, "I'm a fraud." After much coaxing, she explained to me that she was 20 years old...not 17 like she had told us.
"That's it?!" I couldn't help but be incredulous to this discovery.
"But I lied!" she went on. "I signed papers that said I was 17 and in high school, but I'm not."
Jasmine and I had a long talk about being truthful. Because of her dishonesty, she had missed the deadline for the Central Dallas scholarship. There were other natural consequences that occurred because she had lied.
I am no fan of lying. But here's the bigger issue to me...
A 20-year old girl lied SO THAT SHE COULD GET HELP WITH COLLEGE!!!!
Because Teen U is only for 6th-12th graders, Jasmine was afraid that if she told us her real age, she would not get to visit the college campuses, listen to the career speakers, and begin figuring out what she wanted to do. She was afraid she'd passed the age of being able to get the guidance she needed and desperately wanted. Jasmine's mom and aunt encouraged her to keep lying so that she could get a college education.
What does it say about our inner city communities when a young adult so desperately wants to get an education that she is willing to lie about her age to access those resources??
How often have I heard and read that we have to teach "those kids" [in the inner city] to value education?! How often do I hear that "those parents" [in the inner city] don't want anything for their kids?! Who are "those people" talking about???? Where are they getting their information??
Knowing this truth, I know our program needs to be expanded. We don't have the people or monetary resources in place, but we will make it work. Fighting crime and providing basketball leagues are important....but the communities where I live and work deserve educational opportunities as well. Our city and our society has to begin backing up this big talk on education. If education is so important, we need to improve our schools and offer more accessible, community-based programs that provide kids AND adults with the opportunities to fulfill their dreams...and helps them figure out how to get there.