By Antwoine Johnson, MD Middle School Program Coordinator
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
― Søren Kierkegaard
This has been a very interesting year, for both me and the youth at Loiederman and Newport Mill, where I am the coordinator. At both schools we received new crowds of youth that were very different from the ones that were in programs last year, adding to the diversity of the program, but also creating a change of dynamic for those who were in the program last year. With any other group, it would be nearly impossible to adapt or come to grips with the change but, once again, our youth have shown that they are not only willing to step up to the challenge, but do so with an open heart and a pep in their step.
At first, the waters were tested. Youth stepped into the sea of change and looked out to the others that had also stepped in. There was enough space between them to be comfortable but close enough that, when the time called for it, they would be able to reach out to each other when the tides of change settled a bit. Team work and ice breaking exercises were essential during this time. We started in the shallow areas of life– favorite color and what weapon would you use in a zombie apocalypse– and steadily got deeper in terms of culture, family, and history.
The youth went out deeper into the sea, coming closer as they went out further and started relying on each other for support. They engaged in poetry exercises that caused them to be vulnerable to each other. They revealed and really showed their hearts and desires to each other, but felt safe as they now had a sense of what it meant to be an AALEADer, whether they were new or old. It meant tackling things and being vulnerable, but it meant doing it together as a family.
And then, by time the month of May came, they stood in the waters, waves up to their waist, not as individuals as in the beginning of this year’s journey, but together as one. Holding hands and looking to the horizon, not knowing what would come next, youth knew, whatever it was, they would not face it alone because they had a new family that they could tackle anything with and, in the end, that is what matters.
All in all, this year started off well and just got better. Youth grew to know themselves and know how they were being seen in others eyes and that has made all the difference.