Hope in Action
Posted 18 August 2016 12:00 AM by Carmen Cartterfield
What I love most about facilitating groups, in particular youth groups, is watching a group’s process unfold. Every group has their own heartbeat, their own pulse and their own rhythm. This year was the most diverse group of teens I’ve ever worked with. Going into the summer I was anxious that the differences within the group would create barriers that felt insurmountable, that the group would get stuck climbing them rather than figuring out how to bridge them. But at the same time, I was excited that the summer offered a microcosm of the challenges posed to our country at the moment—how do we connect because of our differences rather than in spite of them?
It wasn’t always easy. At the beginning, returning teens resisted the new community, expressing concern that it didn’t “feel the same.” I had several conversations with both returning and new teens about how they didn’t necessarily connect or “see eye-to-eye” with everyone. “They’re cool, they’re just not my people,” one teen said to me. Through conversation and self-reflection they began to unpack these thoughts and understand how they were rooted and connected in the new diversity of the community. It’s easy to connect with what we know; we embrace the familiar and reject the new and different. These teens were being faced with the same task that they were observing and critiquing in the culture around them. They had the courage to see that and they had the courage to keep moving through it.
Throughout the seven weeks that followed I was deeply humbled by the way this group of 61 teens navigated their differences. What I realized through witnessing them is that half the battle is being able to notice and articulate the differences that arise between us as people and identify when they begin to interfere with our ability to connect. With the support of an extremely graceful and talented staff, I witnessed the teens begin to recognize what was separating them and make conscious decisions to bridge them, rather than simply glossing over them.
As always this works gives me a deep sense of hope—the kind you can’t sell in a commercial or dress up in fancy political rhetoric. Real hope. The kind that is rooted in action, courage, and a willingness to open oneself to growth. I am grateful to call these teens the next generation because they have the creativity, imagination, tenacity and now, the practice, of weaving a new world where differences are valued as strengths rather than obstacles.