Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I Wish that I Could Love All the Girls in the World (Or, at Least, Within Our Community)

A sufficient measure of civilization is the influence of good women.

--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Just the other day when visiting the local mall with my children, I happened to run into a young lady I had worked with a few years ago as part of a program designed to encourage and provide tools and resources to overage students and students in danger of dropping out. At that time she was a fifteen or sixteen year old eighth grader who could not read.

I guess that would make her maybe twenty-three or twenty-four now. But she didn’t look a day under thirty. And I’m being nice. In fact, when I had finished speaking with her, my children asked me how I knew her. When I explained, they were a bit incredulous.

“You mean you worked with her at the university?,” they asked.

“No,” I answered. “She was in middle school at the time.”

They just looked at one another in disbelief. But they did not know her narrative.

The first time I read her narrative I was shocked. Someone delivered her cumulative folder to my office, and after I read it, I just sat there for an hour, perhaps more, in total silence, not knowing what to do, what to think, how to move forward.

From her psychological report, I learned that she had been sexually assaulted in her early teens. As had her mother. As had her grandmother. And both mother and grandmother were now a none factor in her life. They were given over to drug abuse. There was no mention of a father, and she was being shuttled from relative to relative.

There was more I found, much more, but I will stop there.

I mentioned what I had found to a couple of colleagues, and their nonchalance about it enraged me. It appears everyone already knew the narrative. It appears the whole community already knew the narrative.

In fact, despite how shocking the narrative was to me, the narrative was not that uncommon. And since that time, I have read too many similar narratives. I have gotten to the place that I can observe a young lady new to the program for a while, and after watching her behavior and how she interacts with others, pretty much predict what I will find when I read her file.

Quite routinely I find narratives of abuse, sexual and otherwise, perpetrated mostly by family members or other persons the young lady should be able to trust. I find narratives of young teenage girls being left to “entertain” their mother’s live-in boyfriend, who doesn’t work, while the mother works two or three jobs. I find narratives of third or fourth generation young, teenage mothers. I find narratives of young ladies being required to miss days and days of school so that they might stay home and baby sit their younger siblings while the mother works. And lately, more and more, I find young girls in their early to mid teens dating men who are ten, sometimes even twenty years older with the tacit, if not open, approval of their mothers or guardians or older family members.

A female friend and feminist scholar tells me that this type of thing has been going on for some time in our community, but in the past, the community has closed ranks to keep it hidden. She scoffs at what she calls my naïve, middle class sensibility.

But the first question that comes readily to my mind is why are we not doing more to protect those in our community most need of protection? Why does this issue not receive more attention? We should be outraged. We should be in an uproar. We should be doing all within our power to assure that this ceases.

And consider this.

We shake our head at the behavior of the younger generation. We shake our head at the behavior of what appears to be a subculture within the African American community. We question the future of the African American community given the actions and behavior of a large segment of our community.

And these young ladies, these broken and abused products of our community, will be raising the next generation. They can only impart to that generation what they know; the lessons they are able to teach are conditioned by the limits of their knowledge And if all they know is privation, neglect, and abuse, what is it you think the next generation will know best?

My wife sometimes accuses me of spreading myself too thin. She accuses me of having so many irons in the fire, spending so much time trying to raise other folks’ children, that I sometime neglect my own. And no matter how vigorously I deny it, this may be so. But I know that between their grandmothers, grandfathers, and their many aunts and uncles, my children are loved and cared for and protected and will continue to be so.

However, there are so many in our community who are not. And who will love and care for and protect these? I do the very best I can to do my part. I do my very best to go back into the community and attempt to lift up even as I climb, to remind these children that someone exists who is concerned for them, who loves them, who cares.

But I am only one person, and daily I am becoming older and more weary; my free time is becoming scarcer and scarcer. What are you doing in your free time?


md20737 said...

It hurts very much when you are the only one who seems to care. After a while you become numb. I have many friends who are in these horrible relationships.

I used to feel bad and have sympathy but once they continue to stay and accept whatever is given to them I lose respect for them.

Im at a point where I am who you described desensitized and uncaring. But if you dont care about you, how can I care about you?

A. Spence said...

How is she now? Has your involvement changed her life in anyway? I’m curious.

Max Reddick said...

@ A. Spence

Good question. When she saw me she hugged me for so long. I think I saw tears in her eyes. The child she had when I knew her was with her. I did not ask if she had others.

She stated that she was working, but still lived with relatives, and she wondered if I could help her get into the local community college.

She lives in the neighborhood in which my wife was brought up in Jax. So, I am going to make it my business to keep tabs on her.

A. Spence said...

Jax? Jax, FL by any chance?

Max Reddick said...

@ A. Spence


A. Spence said...

HA. small world.

It's ashame that many of the girls in our community are lost thru the system. Because it's so generational and maybe other people are not looking for signs of abuse with our little girls.

udee said...

Unlike our ancestral societies of the past, communities have become increasingly individualistic. This has no doubt taken a toll of the kind of human beings we are today.

And md20737, should we really wait for reciprocation before we even begin to care ... even if it's for JUST ONE young person who has clearly been lied to by society and given over to hatred and bitterness from relatives they were supposed to trust?

It is most unfortunately, only the very few have the privilege of knowing that there are uncles, aunts, grandparents, older cousins, etc to care for their children.

Le sigh ... we can do better, people. We simply cannot stop caring and revert to nonchalance! The world ought not to revolve around our mortgage and pay checks and hustle!

"...naïve, middle class sensibility"?!? Ouch! Does she mean to say those of us in a 'better' place cannot turn around to help or at least try to understand?

Mike Zen said...

I'm surprised that some of the comments (or was it just the one) mentioned not caring or allowing themselves to become desensitized to the plight of our youth. While I see the point that was trying to be conveyed (if they don't care why should I?) the answer to that query is simple: because we MUST!

If we don't take the time to work with them, guide them, to nurture them, then how will they be able to show THEIR children the way?... Read More

Look at it from a selfish stand point and do it because the thought of having these young people, in the current mindset, taking care of you in your old age is frightening! We didn't care about them coming up so why should they care about YOU when you need your SSI check, your pension, etc.

What happened to each one teach one? What happened to the village raising the child? Please tell me it hasn't been discontinued like some long forgotten book no one cares to read anymore?

CurvyGurl ♥ said...

You're so right. Shaking our heads doesn't change one thing. I've fallen off the outreach wagon, but will get back to it renewed and recommitted. Thanks for the wake up call.

KST said...

Great post! Rotfl at the idea of "naive middle-class sensibility." This kind of thing is prevalent in all "class" groups. Sexual abuse is rampant in all communities in this country - we just don't want to deal with it.

Seattle Slim said...

Max, I most often feel like you. My frustration came after commenting and commenting and realizing that letters and the like, can only do so much. They are effective, but they give a false sense of righteousness; action. There has to be more.

I decided that I needed to start because the Black situation in the US alone, not to mention the continent of Africa and some countries in the Caribbean,requires us to put on our most heavy duty gloves and dig right in.

This is the ONLY way we can make a change. The government won't. Other's won't. We haven't seen changes because we are not caring and this is the problem.

Seattle Slim said...

@MikeZen: Yes! Great comment!

Anonymous said...

This was a touching post that reflects your compassionate spirit.

This is a subject that deeply saddens me. I can relate to this because I know so many affected in the black community by this dirty little secret. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with wanting to help or feeling sympathetic for what some have had to deal with.

Especially when they are younger and you suspect that something is going on but have no proof. These girls are often referred to as precocious because they may act out in a certain way. But, there is an underlying reason for this behavior.

I personally take comfort in my faith. The time will come when those who have been taken advantage of will get justice. For now, I try to positively influence the girls/women I come in contact. Reassure them that they are not alone and not to let the past define their future. I also go to great lengths to protect my own little girls from it.

Color Online said...

Visit me at Color Online. Like you, I spread real thin. I work with young women like the young woman you write about.

Mike, a lot of us care. And we always welcome help. Pick a place and commit.

What I had to learn was you might not see the fruit of your labor, but do the work. I truly believe we affect each other's lives and you can't focus on seeing immediate results. Often, down the road we reach back and remember the love somebody showed us and we find the strength and reach out for the resources to heal.

Color Online is small but mighty. I'm one broke sista, but I believe in what I do because I believe in the young girls I support.

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