For the past month, I have had the joy and challenge of working with middle schoolers in what is commonly described as one of the worst neighborhoods on Chicago’s west side.
I’ll be honest with you: I work long hours, I don’t make a lot of money, and learning how to navigate a middle schooler’s thoughts and feelings as well as help get them on track academically is not easy and can get exhausting at times. However, it is not impossible and totally worth it.
Sometimes I question myself and if I’m cut out for this job and there has only been one time so far that I’ve wanted to cry out of frustration and truly not knowing how to help a kid. But small victories and direct confirmation from God lets me know that right now, I’m where I’m supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to do.
Enough about me tho. Let’s talk about the kids.
We live in a world that criminalizes and polices our black and brown children from the moment they are born, complete with an education system that does not cater to them socially, emotionally, or culturally. The hard truth: these children are penalized simply for existing.
I worry about my students. While some of them have really tough exteriors and holler all day long about how “grown” they are 😂, I remember that underneath the tough act that these babies….are still babies.
I hear and see daily stories of trauma, abuse, and obvious and not-so-obvious signs of neglect.
So I worry about them. And when I worry, now I pray.
I pray for my girls. It is no secret that society hates little black girls. I pray that they have at least ONE person in their lives that cares about them, loves them, and cherishes them. I pray that they have people in their lives who respect them: as young girls, human beings, people who simply matter. Society likes to make us think that little Black girls don’t matter but I KNOW that we do.
I pray that these little girls never get preyed on or targeted simply because they are vulnerable. Middle school is weird man. You gotta deal with the pressure from all around, made to conform, deal with puberty, and still figure out yourself. I pray against the mistreatment and abuse they may experience. God forbid, but I don’t want their bodies turned into a rapists or pedophile’s playground.
I pray that their voices are never silenced, and they remain as outspoken, strong willed and unique as they were when they were first created. Many people think a middle school girl’s attitude is the worst and while sometimes it can be, have we ever stopped to think that maybe they have a reason to be angry? Have we ever stopped to think that maybe they simply have something to say?
I pray that they never experience the things that their mothers, sisters, cousins, grandmothers or aunts went through. I pray that they have the room to explore and discover their sexuality in the healthiest way possible, make sound decisions and figure out who they are as a person.
While I pray for my black girls, I pray for my black boys too.
I’ve seen little black boys deal with everything from police brutality, gang violence and toxic masculinity.
It’s not easy being a young black male in the education system, where they are disproportionately misdiagnosed with learning disabilities, mental health issues and wrote off as simply being “bad”, unteachable students.
I pray they have someone who believes in them. Someone who constantly reminds them that being smart and learning can be cool. I pray that they have someone who loves them enough to hold them accountable for their actions, to tell them that it’s okay to cry, to hurt and to feel anger.
I pray that they learn that they are more than what they can do with their private parts, that they get healthier views of women and learn how to respect all people, regardless of gender, sexuality, etc.
I pray that they aren’t being forced to have sex too early, that it’s cool to care, that it’s cool to show emotion. I pray that they aren’t forced to grow up too fast. The most beautiful thing in the world to me is watching a young black boy in his element; laughing, playing and smiling with friends.
I pray that they learn how to value black girls, even the ones who aren’t their family. I pray that they never have to experience what their fathers, brothers, grandfathers, uncles and cousins went through. I pray that the world and society’s stereotypes of them doesn’t turn them cold.
Lastly, I pray that they have at least one person around them that can speak life into them, empower them, and let them know that they deserve all the good things.
Kids are amazing. Some days are more challenging than others but I couldn’t give up on them even if I tried.
Kids don’t need to be saved or fixed and to say that implies that they are broken or in danger. These kids have the strength of a thousand men and have survived some of the hardest things between 11-14 years old.
But do they need love? Yes.
Empowerment? Of course.
And people who believe in them? Duh.
Give love. Spread love and listen to the kids, bro.
In Jesus name I pray,
*All views are my own and do not reflect my employer*