It Takes A Community To Fight Despair

Hillary Clinton is often quoted as saying that “it takes a village to raise a child” and this certainly applies to any teen regardless of whether they are straight, gay, black, brown, white, or whatever else. She’s definitely right and so it’s no surprise then that she decided to join the “It Gets Better” campaign:

The “It Gets Better” campaign that is aimed at teens that are being bullied because they happen to be gay or perceived as being gay has been getting a lot of traction in the media recently.  For those of you that don’t know, the campaign was started by American author Dan Savage because a disturbing trend of gay teens committing suicide was seen on the rise across the nation.  Bullying people because someone’s different is nothing new, but it seems that the level of violent language and acts being used by bullies has been getting worse.

Frankly, the spirit of the “It Gets Better” campaign could be applied to anyone that is perceived as being different.  The essence of the campaign is the message of “you’re not alone” and to have teens see or hear someone like them or someone that is supportive of who they are that went through similar experiences and that could appear as a sort of a mentor figure that these teens previously may have never had.  This could certainly apply to many Latino teens across the nation that are being picked on, singled out, or bullied because they are different.  In the media-saturated world we live in filled with racist rhetoric against Latinos and immigrants we see case after case of violence against Latinos and teens are no exception.  Take for example the case of the Latino kid in Texas that was nearly killed for merely trying to kiss a white girl back in 2006.  Acts that instill fear or that simply belittle Latino teens need not be violent or premeditated in order to have serious negative consequences in the psyche of teens.  Take for example, the case of Tenessee where Latinos teens face institutional discriminations because they are different.  Via the

Hispanic teens in Nashville say they are stereotyped at school and at work and by police as gang members and dropouts. Some complained they were placed in English language classes even if they were born and raised in the United States.

The comments come in a national study on Hispanic youths’ experiences and attitudes toward discrimination released today. The National Council of La Raza, a leading national advocacy group for Hispanics, says the strident debate on immigration is making it harder for teens at the crossroads between childhood and adulthood who must also bridge the cultures of their parents and the American mainstream.

The study found “… Latino youth in Tennessee appeared to experience by far the greatest degree of negative stereotyping and prejudiced behaviors, and to feel the most blatantly marginalized in school, on the job, and in the streets.”

Patricia Foxen, the report’s author, attributes this to the rapid growth of Latinos in Tennessee in the past 15 years and to Nashville’s ethnic segregation, which separates Latinos from the mainstream.

The study is based on interviews with teens in four cities. Nashville was chosen to represent one of the “new gateway” communities of the Southeast that have witnessed an extremely rapid growth in the Latino population over the past 20 years.

The sample was small, only 60 kids in four cities. But a recent Metro graduate and a Metro teacher who works in a predominantly Hispanic school said the comments ring true.

You can read the rest of the article here.  While the systemic challenges that Latinos face are too overwhelming for the average person to tackle alone, the message of the “It Gets Better” campaign could also ring true on this sense as well: there is something you can do.  Sometimes all it takes is being a friend to a teen and sharing your story with them to show him or her that what they go through can be overcome and that, yes, things do get better-but only if they don’t give up.  You would be amazed at the impact of just spending time with a teen having a conservation, listening to them rather than just talking at them.  Together, you can find inspiration in simple things like doing positive and productive things with a teen like volunteering together for a positive cause, going camping, exercising, doing sports, participating in arts, and really just experiencing the power of community instead of getting involved in gangs, dropping out of High School, or God forbid commit some violent act against themselves or others.  We must all work together, so next time you have the opportunity to spend some quality time with your teen sister, cousin, brother, or whatever, do it! 

Don’t be afraid of being a mentor or someone that is being looked up to.  Being a mentor doesn’t mean that you have to act or be “perfect” but rather it means that you show that you are human and that you care, that you have flaws, assets, weaknesses, and strengths, and that, in spite and because of all that, you are a fighter.  Instilling that lesson onto someone that is younger than you is probably the singlemost important lesson you can leave behind as your own personal legacy.  So don’t be afraid to reach out, you really never know the positive impact you will have on someone’s life.