By Natie Hara, DC High School Program Coordinator
Photos and Media Courtesy of AALEAD Staff
The following passage is a brief snapshot of Wednesday, November 4th, the day after the US presidential election. AALEAD staff pooled lesson plans and resources to best support coordinators facilitating programs. I did not know how youth were feeling so I framed our program meeting to be mostly a share out session, an exchange of emotions. In this way, I created an intentional space in which to check in with youth and process what was happening in the US. I prepared a brief PowerPoint presentation containing our community agreements (how we agreed to treat each other during this session) and some open ended questions to gauge how youth were feeling.
Traversing from my dining room table to my desk, I open up my laptop and mentally prepare myself for the following conversation. I open my Zoom room and watch as multiple participants flood into the waiting room. I close my eyes and take a deep breath, before selecting “Admit all” and watch as the previously black screen comes to life with multiple frames, turning the dark canvas into a grid of faces, name plates, and profile pictures of cute dogs. “Welcome! Hi [youth’s name]! It’s good to see you!” I exclaim as YELP! Program begins.
It is the day after election day in the US. I stayed up until 2am watching the votes trickle in and I suspect many of the youth did the same. The vibe today feels much different than on other program days. We keep the welcome brief and transition into a check-in circle. “It is the day after the election. We do not know who won. How are you feeling?” I ask. As we process together, there is a powerful silence lingering around us and although awkward, we trudge through it. After a while, someone answers and then they pass it to someone else who continues until we have all shared our feelings. Youth express stress and anxiety, carefreeness and nonchalance, and hope and determination.
As we process, leaving space to be introspective, I recognize the different stages of each youth. Some youth are ready to move on, some youth are anxious about the unclear future, and some youth do not know how to feel. Attuned and empathetic to what youth might be going through, I do my best to remain positive and inclusive, but I also feel awkward and uncomfortable. The silence is pervasive and heavy, and after each person speaks, the silence that follows feels final, as if no one else is going to speak. I fidget in the silence, trying to limit the amount that I say, and hoping that the conversation will continue. Each time the Zoom call becomes quiet I hold the silence and watch the conversation and silence flow together. We continue until every person has shared.
As the program nears its end, I close out our meeting with some announcements and hopeful words about the future. I then watch as everyone leaves until only three, and then two screens remain. Before long, the only picture in the frame is my own.
I feel hopeful. As I end the meeting, I think back to my original purpose for holding this intentional space for youth and I am left in awe of the resilience of young people. I know that although the future is uncertain, the youth will make the best of it and their energy inspires me. Their awareness and care surpasses anything I was capable of in high school and pushes me to work harder to meet them where they are. Today was a break from our usual lively and boisterous program, but I am thankful to be in a space where each of us can speak our truths, through stories as well as through silence. The present may be tumultuous and the future unknown, but no matter what, we as AALEAD will get through it together.