Run Away or Runaways: The “Invisible Homeless”

 

Each year more than 1 million people, between 14 and 24 years old, experience homelessness for a week or longer. Many of the reasons that teenagers find themselves homeless include:

  • adult substance abuse
  • adult mental illness
  • domestic violence
  • identifying as LGBTQ
  • etc,….

Some youth may find themselves exiting from or aging out of foster care or juvenile justice systems and hence, without necessary transition services, experience homelessness. It is fairly easy to recognize an adult on the streets as you go about your busy day, who may be experiencing homelessness, but youth are often difficult to spot. These youth find themselves on their own with no means of support-cut off- from any assurance of basic needs getting met from day to day.

Assistance is truly scarce out there. If you listen to formerly homeless youth, detail their experiences, maybe the things that we take for granted as everyone’s reality, would become more concrete. It begins to sink in that these ‘children’ are out in the world alone, literally. Male and female, teenagers, cannot be left to fend for themselves without adult supports and basic needs provided them.

We think about those students who attend school everyday, and they just don’t seem to be there, fully engaged. Grades may slip, behavior problems develop, they sleep in class, their clothes are visibly unclean. What do we do as educators charged with the comprehensive development of these children? They are largely in the age group, where attendance is mandatory. So, they try to show up.

Are we really paying attention? In this society, children, school aged and under the age of 18, are not expected to care for themselves without adult supervision, without a bed, a roof, lights, food, clean clothes, even hygienic products. Yet, we mindlessly stand before a classroom filled with students, whether they are black or brown or poor, and appear to ignore a child’s plight.

We chastise, discipline, belittle, or shake our heads at someone’s child, who at least finds his or her way to school in the first place. We watch grades deteriorate, and yet, that child can go ‘home’, wherever that may be for that day or night, and assign extra, ‘make-up’ assignments, to be completed in class or at home. But, do we ask ourselves where that child calls home, or if there is an actual home? Is it a subway car, an abandoned building, an alleyway, an alternative and equally unstable and unsafe environment?

Is it a friend’s house tonight, and an aunt’s house tomorrow? Can they actually concentrate on an assignment when they are food insecure, are in places so frightening that they actually are afraid to close their eyes to get a good night’s restful sleep? Are they parents or are they parenting their own siblings, or parenting a parent?

These youth usually only need housing for a short period of time. They need jobs, job training, education, to be taught life skills, to do budgets, and be shown how to cook and clean so they can earn a living wage to pay their bills.

All young people who have experienced homelessness have experienced trauma before and while they are homeless. A lot are sexually assaulted or are sex or labor trafficked while they are homeless. If a child runs away at around 15 or 16, and they have no source of money, for food, housing, clothes, what do we reasonably believe that they will do to survive? Become prey to underworld activities and engage in activities which make them vulnerable to the sex trafficking trades, if they survive.

Then, there’s always a life in and out of the judicial system, jails, detention centers, and then what do we suppose their life chances are for survival as adults will be? If they make it to become fully mature adults, that is. But until then, these youth comprise the “invisible homeless”, unless we find it in our hearts and politics to provide proactive supports for families, and their children, before it gets too late,…and the children disappear into the night on their own  on the streets of America. And we call ourselves the Land of the free, and the home of the brave!”

These youth are the quintessentially brave and they are brave without a home! Invisible to the adults who all, every one of us, say they care about ALL children! Is it us or is it them who need help? As we ponder that question, think about the millions of teenagers who are living on the streets in this country, and go by everyday unnoticed, unsupported and unprotected! These vulnerable youth ARE the most brave of us all! It is our move to say something, and do something to protect these young people, today and for the future, so we can be a part of their, our solution! The future is now.

Let’s Create a Culture of Family-Centered Practices in School Settings

greet parents

For professional educators, serving children in schools means serving the family as well, and we must adopt practices which will move school systems, procedures, perspectives, protocols and program policies, towards being family-centered in the framework of teaching and learning. The elements of family-centered practices all work towards empowering families with the knowledge and skills to make the best decisions  for their children and the family as a unit. When parents are empowered, they feel in control; a palpable sense of agency.They also become more invested when they feel they are respected as experts and collaborators in the educational planning process.

Professionals must recognize that when they develop a relationship with a child, they are also developing a relationship with the child’s family. The more collaborative the relationship is with families, the more invested and engaged the child becomes in the classroom and learning and achievement potential is optimized. Collaboration is the key, and successful relationships require hard work. When the life of a child is at stake, there is no room for failure-it is not an option.

An essential component of family-centered practice is collaboration in decision-making. As a model of partnership, family-centered practice has as its underlying philosophy the belief that
families are pivotal in the lives of children and should be empowered to engage in decision making
for them.
It actually has its origins in Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory, in that it recognizes that children exist within a wider context of family,
community and society where at every level the ecological system is interconnected. In this ecological system, the child, the family and the
environment are inseparable and what affects one member of the system impacts on the other members.  Each member of the system, and their relationships, are in turn influenced by the broader social, political and educational policies. It is this broader system (mesosystem) that shapes the perceptions, expectations and equality of the relationships that exist between the nested systems.

display key

Since we recognize the interconnectedness of these systems-family, child, school, community- it is logical that we likewise assume a multi-generational approach to teaching and learning at school. What empowers one system, empowers and impacts all others. “If you know better, you do better!” Today, we know better and more about the interplay between learning at home and learning at school. When all are aligned, we maximize successful learning outcomes, we enhance life quality for families, strengthen communities, and position our society and its citizens to thrive in a global economy-the global village.

What remains baffling, however, is why it seems to be such reluctance to ‘share’ power and expand the instructional audience to include families, adult caregivers, and diversity. There is an incredible difference between giving away power and sharing power.

Family-centered practices do not mean that the experts in education are relinquishing their expertise to the parents, whose expertise is in their child, culture and unique strengths they possess. Instead, we are asking that professional educators, whose knowledge, experience and expertise lies in their chosen specializations, share their knowledge and benefits from their expertise with families-a collaboration.

Family-centered practices is a partnership, an alliance between systems of care, where knowledge is shared, goals are mutually identified, designed and collaboratively implemented. When parents and families understand your purpose, recognize common interests, and are given the tools and skills to support and fully align with them, children fare better, relationships become more meaningful,
and come to life in the classroom, the home and the community at large-inseparably.

The pathway to this end is through authenticity, trust, respect and reciprocal communication.With a focus on strengths and solutions- finding, we must adopt a genuine appreciation for diversity, culture, language, family structure, etc… Unless and until we can honestly say that we understand the impact of our own culture and cultural experiences, as it influences our cultural lens, we are challenged to engage in family-centered practices with cultural competence.

Cultural competence is also at the core of family-centered practices, when working with children and their families. To respectfully teach and engage a child in learning is to respect and engage that child’s family and with that child’s culture. Demonstrating respect for the culture is to recognize the differences, acknowledge the similarities, and communicate, in conversation or classroom instruction, responsively. This brings us to ‘mirrors and windows’. Children require, not maybe, but definitely, require in their best interests, a healthy balance of both mirrors and windows in the classroom, within a curriculum framed by a broad and inclusive lens.

Eurocentricity and windows-focused curricula and instruction defy the ‘whole child-whole family’ philosophy, and is harmful to the comprehensive growth and development of children. It also negates our responsibility to empower every child and his or her family, as well. If diversity is represented in a school community, especially, and the instruction does not address, affirm or highlight that diversity, we are ‘mis-educating’ the child, disempowering the family and  performing a great disservice to that community.

Family-centered practices place children and families at the fore and central consideration at the core of curriculum, policy, practice, and procedural design and protocol…if indeed we endeavor to act in the best interest of children, and to help them realize their potential for school, career, and life success.

“So goes the family; So goes the nation.”... interconnectedness!

“You’re Fired, Bitch! Go out and find something else to do!”

“YOU’RE FIRED, BITCH!”

This is not a game show or a reality show-this is life! This is the presidency, Mister President!

Those recently spoken words are so appropriate to what I’m feeling about our current President of these United States. How dare he disrespect the flag and the people for whom the flag signifies freedom, liberty and justice! Hasn’t anyone ever whispered into his ear that among the freedoms that our national flag represents is the freedom of expression, beliefs and the freedom to be committed to our beliefs, as individuals and as a collective-a nation?

As if a football player, professional athletes aren’t included in the context of freedoms! Does he believe that athletes are truly ‘dumb jocks’? Since college seems to reign as the prerequisite requirement before consideration of becoming a professional sports player, one should venture to guess that each player possesses some moderate level of intelligence. Along with intelligence, shouldn’t we safely assume that everyone has individual thoughts and beliefs, possibly different from the masses? As much as we are unique as humans, we are also similar, but we don’t have to conform, especially to nonsense. Not even when the nonsense is uttered froPresident

Are all athletes, simply because they are paid to play a sport that millions of Americans and people outside of America find pleasurable, entertaining, or exciting, paid to also keep their thoughts to themselves and their mouths shut? If there were a deeply felt cause that I support, because I exist within a ‘team’ environment, and we get paid to be on that team, is there a clause built into my contract which holds me to abstain from community activism? Why should we ask any player to go against his or her values to satisfy anyone else, let alone a President who clearly aligns with ‘Nationalism’, the ‘Alt-Right’,  and whatever moniker for racially-charged ideology is fashionable at the moment?

It is admirable that there are ‘dumb jocks’ who have a conscience, hold values, and support unjust, discriminatory practices, policies and the rhetoric ‘double-talk’ that we hear today. Black, white or mixed-descent, right is right and wrong is wrong! But, has there ever been anyone chided for calling a ‘spade a spade’…particularly when it was fashionable to do so?[*a distasteful double entendre]

I think that this ignorant phrase used by our President, expletives included, should be enough evidence of his loyalties and he should, himself, be fired by the American people, not just an owner of a sports team. The resounding response to his words, however, shows that he is not unanimously supported. There has been increased numbers of professional sports players, coaches included, who have risen or rather kneeled in protest/opposition to injustice, evidenced by spoken words or actions. Un-American is un-American, in today’s America!

Our newest president seems to be more comfortable responding to popular media and news more social than political, than he is with exercising diplomacy and acting as a vehicle for bringing us all together united as Americans. His job is to act as a strong voice elected by the people to act in our best interest,…Black, White, Protestant, Catholic, LGBTQ or uncategorized. His job is not to polarize, antagonize, demonize or even sympathize. Nobody wants his sympathy, for his job is but to empathize, apologize and lead us into a more inclusively peace-filled and global future.

Obviously, Mr. Trump did not know what he was embarking upon as leader of the free world. So, I say, “You’re fired, Bitch! Go and find something else to do! Good ridding to bad rubbish! We deserve a better, more inclusive, tolerant and respectful leader …for the diversity that IS the U.S.!

 

What is it about swimming and Black people?

There is an historical myth/stereotype about swimming which says that ‘black people don’t swim’. Partially true that myth is, but do we know why? Most of us do not or have never endeavored to give it much consideration. So, it just lingered in the hearts and minds of many. This is my somewhat abbreviated explanation:

The truthful aspect of the stereotypic presumption stems from the notorious passages by which large groups of Africans were first shackled for future ‘slave’ labor and imported into North America and the nearby Caribbean islands. First, an internalized fear of water developed out of the trauma of capture and the horrific voyage across the seas. Upon these ships were very afraid humans, who were being taken somewhere strange, aboard a strange vessel, and traveling along a waterway far from home. Imagine that association! Along the voyage, many experienced or witnessed others being tortured, beaten, killed and thrown overboard, prey to the creatures of the deep and the elements. Many times, they weren’t dead before being thrown into the water. Imagine that imagery and the future negative association with water! So, swimming?? No way.

They then landed at places unknown, and in places where they were not only  viewed as sub-human, but treated as though un–human. As beautiful and as peaceful water is widely perceived, there was an already present fear, which was surely in contradiction with their desires to depart this land and return to their homelands where they were once free people. Water was the highway to freedom, yet they didn’t know how to get there, nor did they possess the wherewithal to get there.

Access to water, lakes, rivers, etc…, forbidden, except under watchful eye of whites, to whom they were ‘traded’ like livestock. There were no ‘inalienable’ rights, not even the right to live or breathe. All privileges were inaccessible, except for a few chosen persons. That is not to say that some of the enslaved blacks did not secretly learn to read, write, count, or swim, because some did. They risked their safety, life and limb to do any of these things. Access denied. As we progress into a post-slavery era, many people fought to continue to withhold certain privileges and limit access to that which would and should have been considered an American and human right.

Access and opportunity became a central theme of restriction as it pertained to black people, in the U.S. , both the north and south. Privilege described white people’s unrestricted rights in this country, and it was by design. Even into the 20th and 21st Centuries, access to a neighborhood swimming pool for people of color was few and far between- still largely inaccessible. At one time, pools were either restricted to whites only or they were segregated, as were drinking facilities, etc…. Whites had pools in their backyards, and people of color were lucky to have one in their entire community.
As black people migrated into the north and other places, many of which were inhabited by whites, whites moved out. They moved, took their wealth, privilege, and amenities with them. Stores closed, as did movie theaters, and pools.

Communities of color began to take on a generalized look of desolation, and disrepair, limited job opportunities and little chance for upward mobility in this nation. Strategically, there was a social and political denial of access and privilege to African-Americans and among other things, were there any existing fears of swimming, they were exacerbated by limited access.

Today, things are better, and now we see an entirely different mindset and new policies characterize a more humanistic landscape of the socio-political climate in this country. Access to what some may call the ‘creature comforts’ afforded to Americans, has improved for many blacks whose ancestors were strategically denied such access. Descendants of the original enslaved peoples now see a turnaround. Government officials, city planners, and businesses are  working to ensure equity in this society, and in NYC, which includes ensuring access to public pools, as well.

This young nation of ours is growing up, little by little. Some decision-makers recognize the necessity of targeting those communities which continue to resemble the objectives of a former discriminatory mindset.  We have been called to replace, rejuvenate and repair the fragmented services, opportunities and access once mostly denied or removed from the reach of people of color. It, change, must start somewhere and a neighborhood pool is one step along the way to a more equitable and purely democratic society. Time to teach people of color to swim! What do you think?

These were the depths of my thoughts after reading a recent article published in the New York Times. In their Race/Related series, this was definitely a good read. To read more, follow the link below:
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