Anthony Goulet believes that to facilitate healing with at-risk youth, what you need is the only thing that can penetrate the street-armor without harming anyone…Love.
The wounds within gang life are small compared to the wounds that cause our young people to choose a life within gangs. Yes, there are some things worse than death in this life. All healthy relationships begin with the ability to open our hearts without fear of being hurt. And healthy relationships end when we can no longer open our hearts with someone due to the anticipation of pain. Gang affiliation is one of many cloaks some young people turn to after their hearts close due to pain. After the light that our young people brought to contribute to this life is rejected one too many times by those who are supposed to support it, some youth hide it under gang affiliation. Gang affiliation is not the problem, but a symptom of many problems. And when we identify any young person as a gang member, what is really being identified is great pain.
I was once asked, “Don’t you ever get tired of working with gang members?” I responded, “If that’s how I saw them I probably would.” The irony of facilitating successful gang intervention is this: First, don’t see the youth as gang members, even if that’s what they present, and continue to represent. See them as what they are, Wakanyeja (Sacred Beings), gifts, miracles. Remember that the gang clothing, and hand signs are just there to throw you off, and perhaps test you to see if you will fall for the thin disguise they picked up to mask the pain they endured. Will you continue to see the light within them, or focus on the “street-armor” many young people wear due to not wanting to be hurt again?
For twenty-one years now I’ve been blessed to work with what some label “high risk” youth. High risk youth are equally at high certainty of a great healing & transformation. Miracles are not beyond anyone, they’re within everyone. I’ve been to more gang conferences than I can remember. In many gang conferences and workshops I’ve attended most of the people adorned the title of “gang expert” is due to being able to tell you everything there is to know about gang identification in terms of clothing, hand signs, graffiti, etc. This may be useful in law enforcement practice, but if your calling is to facilitate healing with our young people, what you need is the only thing that can penetrate the street-armor without harming anyone…Love. Yes, I said it, love, and I’ve been criticized countless times by law enforcement minded individuals and groups for it. I’ve heard all the clichés such as, “Oh here comes the hug-a-thug approach guy.” Trust me, I think nothing of these critiques, our calling is too great, and the lives of our youth are on the line, so there’s no time for ego-stench. Gang affiliated youth are constantly thrown into the categories of unreachable and un-teachable by many people in our society. No one is unreachable or un-teachable as long as the heart doing the reaching and teaching is full of love, honor, and respect.
Facilitating healing with the youth has nothing to do with blame, it’s about walking them back to where pain and blame took them from, their hearts. Unfortunately, a not so uncommon mantra from unskilled, unseasoned, or uncalled youth workers is, “Those kids are going to have to earn my respect!”
Let me break this down:
1. If you have to demand respect, it’s not respect.
2. If you see our youth as Sacred, what’s there not to respect?
3. Correcting unacceptable behavior is effectively done with respect.
4. Recognizing the pain behind the behavior is only seen with eyes of love and respect.
5. If it’s not unconditional love and respect, then it’s not love and respect.
6. If love and respect are not the foundation of the work with our youth, it’s not youth work.
7. Put that ego away before you hurt someone.
Regardless of the choice of curricula and approaches utilized to facilitate gang intervention, the level of effectiveness always stems from the intention from which it’s delivered. Facilitate everything with love and respect in order for our youth to remember they’re Sacred by being treating as such. Our youth are not lost, their greatness just got lost in the pain. As we facilitate healing with love and respect, we remember our own sacredness as well, which in turn makes the youth our teachers. When we’re willing to learn from our young people, they’re willing to learn from us.
Originally appeared at Red Man Films.com
Photo courtesy of Anthony Goulet