I have officially been back in Milwaukee for about a month. I’ve completed my first few weeks of work, I’ve marched and protested, I have cried, reflected, and acquainted myself with a city that I thought I knew so well.
During my time, I have heard the phrase “those kids” being used more than I would care to admit. Adults are constantly using this phrase to reference the youth in the City of Milwaukee. Often times, this phrase comes from people who have never had interactions with these youth beyond seeing the stories about them in the media and word of mouth. These are such indirect references which they have allowed to shape their views and opinions of these young people; young people who have often times never gotten a fair shot at defending themselves or truly showing the world what they have to offer.
But who are “those kids”? 10 years ago, when I was in the position of “those kids”, I had community members and adults in my life who claimed me and took responsibility for me if and when my parents were absent. It made such a difference for me. These young people are searching for something in this world that goes beyond what any of us can understand, but it’s not for us to judge or shy away from what is misunderstood. It IS for us to hold them accountable when we feel that their language, their behaviors, or their mindsets fall short of what we deem acceptable.
I’ve been spending quite a lot of time building with youth out at Sherman Park and within other parts of the City. It’s amazing what young people have to offer to the world when they are given a platform and a safe place to speak, and feel, and share, and engage. It’s refreshing to watch youth build up and support one another. I’ve literally seen communities being constructed right in front of me. I’ve seen fear. Looked it straight in the eye and reminded it that it has no place in our community that we are building. I’ve listened to law enforcement. Heard out their concerns and offered up solutions. I’ve felt disappointment and emotional exhaustion. But to do any of the things listed above, I have had to be present. I have had to be kind. I have had to be open minded. Sometimes, this is what young people truly need. “Our kids” need more than what we have given them and now is the time to deliver. It’s amazing what can happen when we shift that one word. When we go from “those” kids to taking responsibility for “our” kids, something beautiful happens and what a blessing it is to be a part of something that is so much greater than myself.
Today, I challenge you to come from behind your computer screens and step into this new community we are building. Greet a youth on the street with a smile. If they do something that makes you feel disrespected, speak on it. Let them know that they are worth the time and the energy and the effort. Not all of them will be receptive to the things that you have to say, but some of them will and that some will be better than none. That some is what will make this world a better place. That some is a part of the all and sometimes, that some is all we need.
Author: Rashidah Butler