This Is Who I Am …

One of the articles in Generation NExT (IC#43)
Originally published in Winter 1995/96 on page 40
Copyright (c)1995, 1997 by Context Institute

"The energy to invest ourselves in projects that protect the environment comes from a sense of hope; a belief that our efforts matter. The arts are one of the most powerful tools we have to intervene in a way that both acknowledges our plight and supports our imaginations. Opening the imagination creates avenues for participation, and strengthening participation leads to commitment.

from the YMCA’s Earth Service Corps’
eARTh: A Reflection on How Arts Empower Youth,
by Charlie Murphy and Kara Palmer

Poetry, the arts, imagination – all these may seem expendable in inner-city neighborhoods where daily life is a challenge. But if Charlie Murphy is correct, tapping into young people’s creativity may be essential to their finding a way out, for themselves and their communities.

In New Haven, Connecticut, Charlie has been working with a group of youth through The Natural Guard. This youth organization, started by Richie Haven in 1990, transforms vacant lots into organic vegetable gardens – with produce going to soup kitchens and shelters as well as to the gardeners – and organizes young people to monitor water quality, explore local ecosystems, and plant trees to beautify neighborhoods and to commemorate children lost to violence.

Charlie has the kids do stream-of-consciousness writing, which, much to the young people’s astonishment, becomes poetry. Charlie, lead singer and composer with the rock group Rumors of the Big Wave, accompanies them on guitar, and when they’re ready, helps them record their poem-songs. The Natural Guard plans to produce an album of their work.

What difference has this made? According to Diane Edmonds, director of The Natural Guard, the work has changed lives. Kids who were withdrawn and quiet have come to realize they have something to say and that someone will listen. One girl, who described herself as "the quiet girl" spoke recently at an out-of-state conference, Edmonds says.

Feelings of despair about the future are very much on the surface for young people, Charlie says. By learning about their own creative potential, they get a sense of their inner resources, and expand their sense of what’s possible. They can literally create something out of nothing.

This is My Life

by Joseph Golden

I’m not another delinquent you see on the news.
I’m not the one who stole your car.
This isn’t my life.

I’m not the person who robbed you last week.
I’m not the one who was leaving the scene.
This isn’t my life.
I’m not selling drugs to shoot my brothers in the back.
I’m not trying to take over the world.
This isn’t my life.

This is my life:
I am a student at a high school.
I have seen blood drip from a family member’s chest.
I’ve felt mental abuse from my peers.
I’ve seen the dim light of salvation blow up in my face.
I’ve been in a violent situation that was kill or be killed.

But I keep struggling to make this my life:
I want to go to college and become a doctor
and then someday I will be someone.

So next time you see me on the street,
don’t run. Stop! Stay!
You might learn something useful about survival.
You will also learn that I am the guy who won
the volunteer award.
I am the guy who is trying to save the environment.
I am the guy who teaches his peers to use peer
mediation instead of violence.

This is who I am.
I am a typical African-American male.
Who are you?

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