Jeremy Scott’s Pink Poodle Shoes aren’t something I see too often. But they were worn by a teen at the library who was a member of our radio program. The two canines had their own story, of course, and it turns out they had a lot to do with bullying.
I was prepared to co-lead this session of my library’s Turn it Up Teen Radio program. It’s a podcast that’s also a partnership of a local ‘ NPR affiliate, WFAE. I came with an agenda. A plan.’ The curriculum dictated that this day was for research. Participants were scheduled to identify topics and resources pertaining to the segment on the topic of bullying. They would record next month.
I started the session off with a warm-up activity, selecting several short (4-7 minute) public radio segments, mostly on the topic of bullying. I divided the teens into teams and asked them to identify the research that informed the story, then come back in 15 minutes and share with the group.
When we came back together, I sat at the front of the group and asked them who wanted to go first. I noticed they were directing their feedback to me, when I really wanted it to presented the group. I asked them to take the stage, so to speak. They did, sharing topics and research pieces and then T., with the awesome pink poodle shoes, took the stage and said he had a story to share.
What followed was raw. I didn’t learn to be “comfortable” with this in library school. I learned this from being a teenager myself and surviving, then from working with people in crisis at an organization apart from work for more than fifteen years.
A watershed moment of trust and empowerment happened in the library.’ The teens came up front to share their own experiences of being bullied.’ They talked about wanting to commit suicide in the recent past, of cutting as a coping mechanism, shopping (for pink poodle shoes!) to replace the person(s) that had hurt them, of standing up for themselves and saying “no, I’m not taking this anymore,” of being “other” and “outside of the box” and being okay with that.
As I mentioned before, I came to the meeting with an agenda. We were going to choose our topics for our upcoming broadcast and then match appropriate research with those issues. But what came from it when my co-worker and I stepped back was far more important and necessary for this trust and bonding among a group that had only been together for three weeks.
I still look back and wonder what we did, or didn’t do, to create an atmosphere where teens felt comfortable enough to share with their peers and adults… though I was told the tall chairs were fun to sit in and might have catalyzed some feelings of empowerment. The mood was incredibly fragile. I felt at any moment we could have easily given in to our own feelings of slight discomfort and said “okay.. . . moving on. . ,” but there was simply no place for that in the midst of these teens’ courage and passion.
Sometimes, getting the heck out of the way, but still being present in affirming teens’ positive choices, can be the best thing to do no matter how it deviates from the agenda you had planned. It can be more far-reaching than you might ever know.
Our planned research discussion didn’t go completely by the wayside. A particular quote from Nikki Grimes, Bronx Masquerade‘ was mentioned:’ ‘ “Choose whatever box you like, Mike. Just don’t put me in one, son. Believe me, I won’t fit.â€ The teens shared statistics about coping mechanisms. (Some people become materialistic when they’re bullied! Who knew?) The teens were brutally honest, and conversations continued past the time the scheduled workshop time.
I think some lives might have been saved today. I can’t imagine asking for anything more.