I remember a time, not too long ago, when I felt I didn't belong.
If I want to be totally honest with myself, it wasn't for me to belong. I was helping support a youth-led initiative while sitting firmly outside the appropriate age range to be referred to as a youth. I was an ally. And though I felt excluded at the end of the day, what really hurt was the sense that the young people who worked so hard to build a community initiative to address community issues, were placed on the margins of their own community.
I first got involved when asked by an elder to assist the group in bringing their vision of a youth initiative to light. I had previously collaborated with young Black leaders in my professional and community work, and my day job had exposed me to the ins-and-outs of mainstream institutions. As a result, I had a good understanding of how interactions with these systems could shape the trajectory of a young person’s life. So as I understood it, my job was to help provide context, ask challenging questions and help remove barriers as they dove deeply into their short- and long-term planning.
It was an awesome experience! I learned so much from them – from the youth’s ingenuity, resilience and the depths of their life experiences – and we developed a great working relationship. I looked forward to each planning meeting and became more and more excited as we marched steadily toward their destination.
On the morning of the launch, we arrived early to set up and were faced with a number of unfamiliar faces. Apparently overnight, some elders had heard about the event and decided they would like to address the youth. Because their schedules were tight, we had to work around their availabilities. A new agenda had been prepared and printed for the day, and all of the work the youth had done had been upended. Instead of a full day launch, the youth’s interactive learning sessions were relegated to 1 hour. And the rest of the time, they spent listening to speeches.
Of course, I’m sure they benefited from hearing the wisdom of the elders, but I can also imagine what must have felt like for the youth to be placed on the sidelines of their own experience. To not be included in the decision-making process. For me, feeling like I didn’t belong made me cautious to engage again