Saturday, August 13, 2011

What I learned from a former skinhead

At training the other day, we heard former skinhead Frank Meeink speak. He talked about his life, how he was horribly abused as a child by his stepdad and later bullied in school. The only one who reached out to him in his teens was his skinhead cousin, who ended up recruiting him into a movement of extreme hatred and violence. He told us about his times in prison and how he finally broke all ties with the skinheads when his employer, a Jewish man who knew his past, told him how capable he was. Mr. Meeink told his story to emphasize young people's need for role models, how a good one can mean the difference between creation and destruction.

Can I tell you I'm not surprised? I'll be working with adolescents, the age very few seem to care about. No longer the sweet little ones who adore you and not yet confident adults, adolescents undergo a huge physical and emotional transition that leaves them feeling quite conflicted. They are extremely conscious of what others think of them and no longer want to be seen as little kids. So, what do they do? They act tough. They act bitchy. If they really have no guidance, they act out. If no one believes in them, they stop caring. If someone does, they'll listen. If that person happens to be the wrong kind of person (:cough: gang leader: cough:terrorist: cough:cough), well, then we have problems.

We don't take youth seriously. They're just teenagers, bags of hormones, who don't give a damn about anyone else but themselves. Why should we care, the public cries. So some kid got into drugs, don't they know that drugs kill (never mind that maybe that's all that they have)? So, some girl got knocked up, she should have kept her legs closed (never mind that she may have been coerced or left with myths about and no access to birth control). They know right from wrong, they can make their own choices, even if it lands them in adult prison (never mind that their brains aren't as fully capable as that of an adult's). We particularly neglect the poor ones because either they'll pull themselves out if they care or they're weak (forget about our policies and institutions that keep them poor). And then we act all surprised when we hear that we still have neo-Nazis. Or flash mobs and race riots here and in Europe. Wake up, guys! Are you really that shocked?

When we neglect our youth, we neglect our future. Chew on that for a moment. If one group is falling, soon we all will.

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