This is the fourth year I've attended the UniverSoul Circus as a guest of Reverend James Lyles and
Youth 10Xs Better from Harrisburg. The circus is in Baltimore and I meet the bus load of young people and chaperones outside the circus tent.
This year, I was especially delighted to run into two dear friends, Lillian Bates and Phyllis Sweeting. We volunteered on various projects in Harrisburg for over two decades. They are still very involved with numerous community initiatives to benefit young people, families and the community.
This very special circus always pulsates with color, energy, vibrancy and talent. And they always weave a bit of their open and inclusive philosophy into the show. Groups from all over the world are represented and for the grand finale, they brought every group together with each county's flag and reminded us of the importance of being inclusive.
Below are a few of the photos I've taken over the years. You really need to attend personally to hear the music, feel the explosive and exuberant excitement from the crowd, get a sense of the amazing variety of talent and skills, but this will give you a fractional idea.
,Years ago, a few months before I lost my home in a flood, my daughter gave me this business card holder. She knew my volunteering had spun out of control. In addition to my full time job, I had key positions with America's Promise, United Way of the Capital Region, Project Youth, the Gandhi King Peace Coalition, and more. Asset based, youth driven initiatives were my favorite and supporting Judge Jeannine Turgeon with Do the Write Thing was one I considered most worthwhile.
Losing my home and my move to Baltimore forced me to make changes, and much to Mycala's delight, most of the volunteering ended. I did some courses with the Renaissance Institute locally and have continued to support Youth 10xs Better in Harrisburg because their mission incorporates all of Colin Powell's Five Promises (American's Promise), but my direct interaction with youth programs ended.
Moving to Baltimore has been a blessing. I love this town for more reasons than I have time to write or you have time to read. But the youth violence is staggering. I've been quietly watching since I moved to Baltimore County in 2012. I purchased a home in the city in 2015 and have continued to consider the best way to help.
Almost over night it occurred to me that Do the Write Thing might be the answer. I have always believed that young people, not adults, know the answers. When I first started out in social services, I am embarrassed to admit that I was part of deficit based programs centered around "what's wrong with young people and how can we (adults) fix them."
Fortunately, I was introduced to healthy communities. I became our local director in Dauphin, Cumberland, Perry and norther York counties through SHIP (State Health Improvement Plan) under the PA Department of Health. The healthy community philosophy embraced Dr. Peter Benson's 40 Assets for Youth from the Search institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota. One of the most startling realizations was that only 20% of young people feel that adults value their opinions.
Do the Write Thing encourages young people from middle school to process questions and come up with answers. And adults listen. It reaches people who are young enough to be guided to make better decisions.. It gives them the opportunity to consider actions and their consequences, gives them a voice and makes them feel part of making positive changes.
A Postive Experience in the Courtroom
Judge Turgeon felt strongly that academic participation and achievement should be given the same value as those for athletic competitions, so she always provided trophies for the students.
How often do young people and their families have an opportunity to have a positive experience in the court room? This was one of the most gratifying aspects of the program.
So now I am exploring the options of bringing this program to Baltimore. I would be willing to organize the project, but it require approval from the national organization to add another community to those already participating and also to find someone with the credentials and status who would be enthusiastic and dedicated to support the initiative.
In Harrisburg I was well connected and familiar with the community. I had spent decades working with people from board rooms to prisons, and had worked in state agencies, school systems from K through university level, health care systems, police departments, social service organizations and people on both sides of the political spectrum. In Baltimore I'm not nearly so well connected but recently I have connected with some people who might be able to help me with coordinating the community efforts. There seem to be so many people interested in making a difference but not sure how to help.
I still have contacts with people participating in Do the Write Thing and i am exploring the options of adding a Baltimore.
Do the Write Thing combines so many things I value - youth opinion, writing, processing, asset based programming, and community collaboration
Years ago I heard a metaphor for chaos and clarity. A fraction of an inch under the surface of a mirror, it is absolute chaos. But a tiny move can bring everything into perfect focus. Hopefully, there will be a clear of vision of what this might look like in the near future.
As I'm writing this post, young people all over the country are organizing for March for Our Lives. The Kuwait America Foundation's wish for our young people through Do the Write Thing is an interesting parallel. We knew then that young people had the answers, but it seems like they are finally recognizing and organizing. I am in such awe of the leadership that it emerging. Ok. Here's Justin!
Yesterday, in a very off the cuff comment about Justin Bieber (in reference to what might bring an arts and crafts class of middle school aged girls in Haiti to a 'screaming halt' ), I suggested a snake, a spider, a hurricane, or Justin Bieber. Unlike most people, I don't think of Justin often, but it reminded me of a video my friend Special K, one of the Harlem Globetrotters had sent me years ago.
Kevin "Special K" Daley was a guest speaker at a dinner in Washington D.C., speaking to the young people at the Do the Write Thing (DTWT) conference. I had heard the globetrotters were there and Kevin was in a suit so I wasn't sure, but judging by his height, I thought the odds were good he might be one! I introduced myself as one of the youth chaperones, said I had heard the globetrotters were there, thought he might be one but if not, he was tall enough to look over the crowd and help me find them. He laughed and our friendship began!
DTWT originated from the Kuwait America Foundation as an expression of gratitude. The citizens of Kuwait wanted to extend appreciations to the United States because we made Kuwait a safer place for their children. Their hope was that youth in communities throughout the United States would be safer through the reflection and suggestions initiated by the Do the Write Thing Challenge. The ultimate goal was that young people would be empowered to make the changes that would break the cycle of violence in their homes, schools and communities. This was the first year Harrisburg Area youth participated.
Judge Jeannine Turgeon, from Dauphin County, PA, brought the program to the Harrisburg area. Communities across the country participated in their local communities and each chose two ambassadors to attend the summer event. There was a week long event where students met their representative, attended an event at the Kuwait embassy, and a ceremony at the Library of Congress where their essays were submitted.
Students discussed the problem of youth violence with their teachers in a classroom setting and then wrote their own reflections to three questions:
1) How has youth violence affected my life?
2) What are the causes of youth violence?
3) What can I do to reduce youth violence?
Judge Turgeon's courtroom was filled with students who participated in the Do the Write Thing Challenge. JT feels that acedemic pursuits should be given the same respect as those in sports so she ensures that the students have trophies and certificates. Parents and teachers looked on proudly as middle schools students were honored for their efforts.
The guidelines for 2018 Do the Write Thing are up on their website. i strongly advise anyone who has middle school students to encourage their student's teacher to get involved, These are exciting times as young people discover they do have a voice and what they are saying is important.. http://www.dtwt.org/the-challenge/instructions
“As kids, we don’t always have a voice, so having a person there listening to us, then it would make us feel more important. Since adolescents are the future, we need a positive presence to lead us into a positive future. Learning to help kids would be beneficial tomorrow and in the generations to come.” ~ student from Do the Write Thing
Years ago I wrote and piloted a curriculum for middle school students in the Harrisburg School District. It began in 5 schools and I worked with 180 students for two years. It was later funded in all schools through out the district.
When Christmas arrived, I wanted gifts for all of my students and hoped to find something useful and meaningful. My budget was already strained and even at $1 a present, the cost would have been almost two hundred dollars. I had no idea how I'd ever afford anything worthy of such wonderful kids.
Then one December weekend I traveled to Upper Dauphin for a sale on fabric at an arctic wear store that was going out of business. They had a sign for free scarves! Lots of free scarves! Enough for me to gather 180! II wish I had a photo of my car - there was barely room to sit! It is surprising the amount of space that many scarves will take up!
This photo inspires me to remember that thoughts become things. We can manifest from nothing if we have faith. At the time I didn't really understand manifesting, but wishing with all my heart for something special for these young people, and having it materialize, was a first step in understanding. And as I've learned over the years, the universe always gives me much more than I could ever imagine for myself.
The scarves represented warm hugs! This photo also represents why I love working with kids! Each young person had a different creative interpretation for their scarves! Adults would have probably draped them predictable around their necks, but not these kids! Every day - every moment - we have opportunities to interpret things creatively and express our own unique point of view. Striving for new ways to use the things in our lives can create dramatic results. (Remember my story about the young person who changed the economy of an entire town in W.V. when he realized the temperature in a coal mine was the same as the temperature to raise fish?) We should never underestimate the power of creative thinking.
Oh, and years later, I occasionally get a call from a friend mentioning they have spotted one of the scarves on someone walking by!
"My mission is
to help others see and cherish the beauty,
romance and treasures within and around them
that are often dismissed or completely overlooked."
Mikell is a writer, artist and professional treasure hunter, finding the greatest treasures in the wonderful people who enter her life!