To try to fit in is normal. We do it to survive. We find groups to run with this way. But even in a group, it can be easy to question whether this is the right group. What am I willing to give up to be in this group? Is it worth what I would gain? Maybe you are thinking about this right now.
At Hope Academy, no matter how we group kids, since the levels/distinctions are approximations at best, the levels come under question. They know we hold the strings and at the end of the day I can move a kid if I think it is a good idea. Based on their perceptions of things, certain kids ask often to switch things up.
They could desire a less challenging class. Maybe they want more challenge - or perhaps just to feel like they are in the most challenging group. Maybe they are frustrated their younger sibling is in a higher level. One of our students' two younger siblings are in successively higher levels with the youngest in the highest. Maybe they say they do not like the kids but in fact it is only one kid... or even one thing that one kid one day said that made them want to change. Who knows.
As each student makes sense of their world, I often feel like the question at the bottom of these discussions is what does my group say about me? Am I smart enough/curious enough/cool enough/_____ enough for the group? For me? Maybe you have also wondered these things.
This happens in social dynamics too. We used to laugh - I know, it's terrible, stress does that. - about kids who called themselves 'boss' and 'king' at the Home. We would say, this is the place you want to be king of? Keep moving. For your own sake.
But whether social or academic, they know. At a minimum, many feel that they do not know enough to make it out there. Of this I am certain. Stories from beyond our halls linger in the halls. The truth revisits us with each young adult who runs away and ends up back on the Home's doorstep asking to be readmitted. We see it in the eyes of older students who become angry, which is to say, fearful, about the impending day when they leave our shelter and relative security. When we take our kids to public events, they are the quietest, 'best behaved' group present. People say, my goodness, I expected more disruption, but your kids are so good.
And they can behave. But does that behavior point to composure or fear? We wonder how many stay silent because they feel that they do not know how to act in society. And having been fundamentally rejected by parents, the people who ought to care for them the most with the least conditions for love, why would someone open up to someone new who knows a necessary thing they don't? What a brave and terrifying risk to submit self for critique under unknown rules. Who would have your back when you fail?
How much safer is it to stay within the bounds their lives have set for them? How much easier to self-sabotage and sleep through the day. To refuse school and work. It's true that to be a clerk or manager or hair stylist might eventually bring you a better life, but it is harder to fail at the brothel with your mother. Or complaining about an unjust world and stealing from people in the street. Choosing these outcomes is not just easier - at some level, when kids let their circumstances shape their identity, these seem reasonable.
Hope Academy is an institution of unlikely interactions. On the one hand, no one outside the Home expects much of anything to come from our kids. But we do. Similarly, most of the school staff came to the Home from stable jobs where we at least felt competent. And I can tell you stories about my own failures here. Bring us together and we all look a little out of place at times. That is part of what gives me hope about this project. We are prayerfully and humbly showing up to chart a new path out of our waters. It requires we each confront our limitations and actively choose to step beyond them day by day. We have to trust this is worth the discomfort, the shedding of the parts of us we can't carry with us anymore if we want to make it.
The last couple of weeks have weighed heavy on me. It's likely me and the expectations I project onto myself and the school. The list of things to do that aren't even directly tied to our main goals has felt endless - Getting suitable internet and work spaces set up. Refining our flow in the building. Working out kinks in the schedule. Making sure there is drinking water. Procuring keys for the fifteen or so different doors we need and for all the right people. Chasing down kids spread out across five floors separated by locked doors. That one restroom is broken again, and it was the kids who did it again, and it will take a week or more to fix again. On-boarding new teachers to a program we are still learning ourselves. Coordinating between part time teachers all on different schedules. All this in the context of constant conversations with kiddos who are upset about seemingly petty things but with a justifiable indignation - will someone care for me? Someone asks me about the quality of the academics right after I stop a child from throwing a large rock at his brother-in-fallout and for a moment I forget that this is part of my job too.
All that said, I am grateful to get back to this.
The International Justice Mission's Liberate Conference encouraged me deeply. It was such a gift to go with my mother to meet passionate people fighting for justice, and worship God-who-loves-all-people together as a chorus. I cried and cried at the beauty.
This world is full of injustice. If you don't see it, you aren't looking.Yet, the most beautiful things of this world, I believe are the ones born exactly here. They are the very ones that persevere through the pain in the name of Life.
Then I wonder between the two, which is the fish out of water - oppression, or justice? Which one is the stranger fighting for a place to speak at the other's table? I may not always feel it, but whenever I have risked on justice, I have found enough there for me to carry on til tomorrow.
*This month I told a story at Hakaya Storytelling. The theme was 'Fish Out of Water'. I shared a time I did a comedy set about buying razor refill cartridges at an open mic in NYC in between the twenty five rappers also performing (I had a great time watching but missed the memo for context). People at Hakaya laughed about how no one at the NYC open mic laughed. Delayed laughter better than none at all?