Friday, January 16, 2009

the kids really are alright (silver spring action recap)

Scenes from the Silver Spring Action meeting last Tuesday at the Discovery Channel headquarters.

There must've been thirty or forty people packed into this little side room in the Discovery Channel headquarters Downtown, trying to find a way to help The Young People. When I'd been invited to this year's Silver Spring Action meeting, hosted by IMPACT Silver Spring, I hadn't expected a giant networking party, complete with motivational speakers and food. But I wasn't surprised that I was almost the youngest person there, second only to the high-school-aged son of a fellow attendant with grey hair.

"We have to give the young people something to do," says one woman. More after-school programs, somebody says. "Some place to go, something to do." Structure. Somebody mentions the shooting of Tai Lam last year and says, "We gotta get those kids off the street." And I'm looking around, thinking, you don't what you're talking about.

For me, "after school" meant one of two things: going home and sitting on my ass because I had nowhere to go and no way to get there, or a schedule packed with meetings: It's Academic, Mock Trial, Film Club, Journalism, and so on. I picked the latter, figuring I'd spent way too long trying to figure out the bus schedules, the bike lanes, how to get around my mother's warnings that I'd get raped if I went to the park in our neighborhood.

So I speak up.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Scenes from the Silver Spring Action meeting last Tuesday at the Discovery Channel headquarters.

"It's all good and well that we're trying to do something for young people, but the kids have to do it for themselves," I say. "They have to have a sense of ownership over where they go, what they're doing, how they do it. Just look at the Gandhi Brigade making a documentary for 'the Turf,' or the memorial for Tai Lam on Ellsworth. Those were kids who saw a need for something and made it happen.

"There's a difference between kids being in public and doing something destructive and kids being in public because they're bored. If we want them to be occupied, it's our responsibility to supply the means, not the end."

Then I point to the one teenager in the room and say "You need to talk, because you're the youngest one in here." And he does. "My friends and I used to hang out on the Astroturf all the time, and I think those places are important," he says. "I know they're putting in a plaza, and I think the more places we have like that, the better it's going to be."

Scenes from the Silver Spring Action meeting last Tuesday at the Discovery Channel headquarters.

There were hushed murmurs, nods in affirmation. An older woman taps me on the shoulder and says "You're absolutely right! Kids need something to do, like skateboarding!" and I'm like, "Yeah, sort of." Someone else says they're editor of a local newspaper written for teens by teens. "They need to create their own agenda," she says. Right on.

I don't think there's any shortage of after-school programs that offer kids something to do after school, whether it's sports or Mock Trial or homework help. Sometimes, kids need unstructured time and unstructured places. They can make their own decisions, forge their own identity and their own relationship to the community at large.

As a senior in high school, I was horrified when the Downtown redevelopment happened, but now I'm disappointed I had so little time to hang out on Ellsworth. It's what sets Silver Spring apart from the rest of MoCo (or suburbia, for that matter): public places for kids to hang out and efficient public transportation for them to get there. "The Turf" said we want youth to be play a role in Silver Spring's civic life, and they responded in kind. It sounds like we've done quite a lot to help The Young People.

1 comment:

Thomas Hardman said...

You should probably inquire about the "Creating Opportunities for Youth" program coming out of the Mid County Service Center. Ask for Carol McKenzie.