Monday, March 13, 2006

Elevated Places for Gangs?

In the Afterschool program we welcomed two inspirational speakers. They talked to the young people about taking their thinking to "Elevated Places" Basically the instruction is what I have learned is called "executive skill", the thinking that allows one to weight the outcomes from one's course of actions. The speakers' ideas were deeply rooted in the issues that confront the youth in my care. They spoke to the tendency many youth have to accelerate disputes to a violent level with sometimes lethal consequences. They spoke to the damage done to people by mysogynistic attitudes and gangbanging. They spoke of the consequences of drugs. They addressed the dangers of listening to music that rehearses one's mind in accepting all these behaviors.

What struck me the most was that these two gentlemen knew how to speak the language of the youth. Though it was clear that some of the youth did not want to hear what was being said, it was also clear that they had to listen to speakers. These ideas were not complicated, and the wisdom of them was transparent. What wondered about was why the youth did not want to hear what was being said. The only idea that comes to mind is that if you take away the gangsta culture from these young men they feel they have very little left that is theirs. They do not have much hope for a future job they are not unaware that their schools are not adequately preparing them. They come from families with struggles, and this is the future they expect for themselves. Recently one child when speaking about his future said, "When I am in jail..." That he would go was his foregone conclusion. The comments that these speakers made indicated that the spoke the language from within the culture.

It is interesting that gang culture is so villianized. What I found very interesting about the perspective of these two men was their affirmation of gangs. The fact that people gather together for mutual support is not the problem. The problem is the kinds of activities that gangs engage in: violence, mysogyny, drugs, prostitution, theft. The other problem with gangs is that they participate in the despair and attempt to build up self image by use of strength of violence, and honor on bullying and gang. I found myself wondering if the gangs are not the instruments we need to reach out to the youth. Could they be somehow convinced to truly act for the welfare of their members? Could they take their violent power and turn it into political power? With the amount of investment in private for profit prisons it is clear that the moneyed white community has no interest in the system changing. It must be the people themselves who must act for an improvement in their situation. The question is whether we on the outside can in any way be a catalyst for this process.

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