For the past two months we have been doing home visitation with more than a dozen formerly homeless families all of whom live in Richmond public housing. As we walk through these neighborhoods, I am always astounded by the number of children playing outside in the barren front yards littered with trash and broken glass, the gatherings of teens hanging out behind the buildings, and the number of adults sitting on the front stoops. We come in contact with literally hundreds of people as we walk these communities.
The contrast to my own suburban community is stark. Our yards are lush and green, we have nice safe hiking and biking trails that run around a lake with more than a dozen playgrounds. However, I rarely see more than a handful of children outside and it is even rarer to see adults. Our children are huddled inside in the air conditioning playing video games, texting their friends, posting on facebook, participating in organized sports, or listening to their IPods.
The youth in the inner city lack constructive activities, the youth in the burbs are over scheduled, the youth in the projects lack opportunities, the youth in the burbs lack perspective, the youth in the hood lack material goods, the youth in the burbs are obsessed with consumerism and materialism. However, both have the same needs; a sense of purpose.
In the book “Reclaiming Youth at Risk; Our Hope for the Future” by Brendtro, Brokenleg, and Van Bockem emphasize the dangers of this loss of purpose.
“Poor black youth who shoot up drugs on street corners and the rich white youths who do the same thing in their mansions share a common disconnectedness from any hope or purpose” Marian Wright Edelman, Children’s Defense Fund
“More and more people today have the means to live but no meaning to their existence. Young people cannot develop a sense of their own value unless they have opportunities to be of value to others. “
“German educator Kurt Hahn described modern youth as suffering from the “misery of unimportance.””
“Deprived of opportunities for genuine productivity, lured into consumptive roles, young people come to believe that their lives make little difference in the world.”
“There are many calls for a return to the spirit of service among contemporary youth to counter the attitude of “looking out for number one”. “
This summer we will be putting the ideas discussed in this book into practice as we bring together urban and suburban youth around the shared mission of being a blessing to their community.
If you feel called to this mission of empowering urban and suburban youth, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you want to know more about the book “Reclaiming Youth at Risk” we will be discussing it in more detail at www.unity-works.org. Please get a copy and join the conversation.