EYI 2012: Who Empowered Who

Posted on July 4th, 2012

“We talked about empowering the youth…. But who really empowered who?”

In this 7 day journey hitting the streets in Los Angeles, we talked about empowering the youth, we met with amazing souls who had lived it first-hand in Watts, in The Projects, witness to the Bloods & the Crips, we met with amazing leaders who had been huge contributors to the success of gangs and major drug deals, and we had met with young teens who grew up in non-affluent neighborhoods who were now using their voice to make a difference.

We shared about what we wanted to contribute to today’s youth, we opened our hearts to the realities of what it is like to be an at-risk youth, we talked about empowering the youth, but at the end of our journey the reality was that they had empowered us.  We were touched and inspired by the generations of youth who did not get to choose what they were born into, and from what they were given, chose to the best of their ability.   Some turned to drugs, some turned to violence, some turned to gangs, and the list goes on.  Some made it out and some did not, but regardless we were left feeling empowered by them.  We were left to deal with our own prejudices around race and our stereotypes of gangs, we were left with a mirror in our hands and it was up to us if we had the nobleness to hold that mirror up and see that we were them.  We were no better just because we grew up in a nice house, we were no better just because we had lighter skin, we were no better just because we had a Bachelors degree or lived in a nice neighborhood.   And that was when we began to see that “at-risk” does not mean you are poor or black and live in Watts neighborhood, at-risk can be anybody who is not receiving what they need to grow into their loving & powerful self.

For me, one of the most powerful questions brought up was, “how do you not become your pain?”  Wow, I have to say that again, “how do you not become your pain?”  When we don’t take care of our immediate pain, when we choose to look the other way, we will continue to repeat ourselves and to pass that deep-rooted pain on until we choose to see it.  That is what can make any of us at-risk.  Just because you grow up in a non-affluent neighborhood eating off of food stamps doesn’t mean you are at-risk.

In this moment, what I am very present to is the fact that we have no idea what it’s like to be in some else’s shoes, we have no idea what their story is.  We might think we understand, we might think we could do a better job, or we might think we know better then they do, but what I have learned is that when we choose to pick up that mirror and see who is there, many times we cannot even be in our own shoes, we run away from our own life experience.   I could go on and on with what has inspired me but I’ll leave you with saying that we talked about empowering the youth…. but who really empowered who?

by Kim Bauman

Kim was a participant of the Empowered Youth Initiative 2012: Los Angeles. She is an active Off the Mat leader in the San Diego area.