Sunday, October 05, 2008

Where are the children, Denver?

Looking for films to show during the Childrens' Rights Film Festival the Amnesty International chapter at our university intends to host next month, I came across a video produced by a group of young people in a Denver, Colorado program called Arts Street. The video, entitled "Where are the children, Denver?", is about the struggle of many young people to make it through their day, let alone to stay in school. It's about the hard core realities of family poverty and addiction. It's about going without food and being locked in closets and despairing of life. And it's about the pain of walking alone with no one to tell.

Some years ago, I had the opportunity to get very involved with a Truancy Task Force in Broward County/Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where at that time, on any given day, 10,000 children would not be where they belonged -- in school. Multiple professionals, offices and agencies spent months compiling information and arm-wrestling issues only to find that many of those children were dealing with heart-breaking levels of abuse and neglect. We learned that racism (especially by teachers and administrators), fear of bullies, and plain old hard core depression haunted the schoolday experiences of hundreds of youth. And we learned that the attitudes of too many over-loaded, ill-prepared teachers and overworked, overwhelmed social workers was to try to hold the children responsible (somehow) for problems that were far to heavy for their young shoulders.

One California study found that every dollar spent on keeping kids in school reduces crime by FIVE TIMES the amount of every dollar spent to lock them up. But where do we put the bulk of our funding? Into locking them up, of course. I've said for years that, as far as I'm concerned, if you know how to change something and you choose not to do it, then you don't really want change.

A mentor, an adult who cares, who lights up when they see the young person, can literally make the difference between that youth staying alive and dying a little every day until they are, for all practical purposes, beyond the vale. I have seen a student come back from the brink of disaster on the basis of a sixty-minute encounter. And yet many adults, though busy they may be, are bored out of their minds for want of doing anything that brings real satisfaction.

Is that television program, that football game, that shopping trip, that hour with the newspaper so valuable to you that you can't EVER change it out for a few minutes with a kid who has no one? Are you sure? Why not try watching "Where are the children, Denver?" and asking yourself again?


Sorrow said...

You should post a small warning however, that being an adult mentor to a child is a challenge like no other.
And after having done it, you, and your life will be forever changed.

Changeseeker said...

It may or may not be a challenge, Sorrow. That depends totally on the kid. But either way, the experience will, I agree, change your life.