It’s crazy how easy it is to find things to write about. We just have to pay attention to what is going on around us and even then all we have to do is be here because its impossible not to pay attention. Last night I was lighting the grill. We don’t have anything fancy, just a standard black Weber charcoal grill. It takes longer to use and I’ve had to learn how to cook on it without drying everything out. We had some chicken last night that was marinating all day. It turned out pretty good. After lighting the grill I heard some fireworks being shot off, but much closer than most. I’m not sure if it is because it was Juneteenth yesterday or if there are just that many people shooting them off normally, but the fireworks were everywhere last night. In Milwaukee, it’s really common for festivals to start and end with fireworks so you hear them all the time, but with no festivals taking place, it’s obvious they are all from random people.
These fireworks seemed really close, like in the alley. I’ve never understood why people shoot them off and I have actually never shot off a firework. We never did growing up. My parents told us they were too dangerous and we never had them around. When I got old enough to make my own decisions about buying them or not buying them, I have always opted out. It’s just not something I wanted to do. There is a spot on the side of the garage door that you can peer out into the alley. You have to stick your face sideways and you can only see with one eye, but if something rowdy is going on back there, you can get a pretty nice view of it without anyone knowing. When I stuck my face sideways and looked through the crack our saw the 9 year old daughter of one of our tenants with a couple of bottle rockets in her hand.
After about 60 seconds of thinking through the appropriate next steps, I opened the garage door and kindly but firmly told her and another boy I know along with a boy that I didn’t that we want a quiet, safe neighborhood. I told them that fireworks are dangerous and it is especially dangerous to be shooting them off near my garage as well as the other properties we own nearby. I also told them that it is really loud and scares my dog. Finally, I told them that it wasn’t ok for them to do that and they shouldn’t do that any more. And that was it. They went back to their yards and I don’t think I heard them again.
I could write a couple thousand words about this interaction. Sure some of them would be about talking to kids. I would tell you about my teaching experience and how you need to be warm but demanding. How you have to be firm and clear about your message so a child can decide if they want to go along with what you are asking them or push back. If they decide to push back, then you can feel confident that they are doing so having had all of the information. As we became adults, that is all we wanted, right, to be able to decide if we accepted the generally accepted ways of thinking and acting or if we want to push back.
I could, and maybe will, write about the only thing the boy I didn’t know said. I like two other kids that were out there and it looked like he was the defacto leader of the threesome. It was really tempting to be short with him, rude even. I have talked to kids that are the same age and look like him in ways that are unkind. It doesn’t go well. I’ve found much more success, in again, being warm but demanding. Maybe I should write more about him, because I have a feeling this season of his life is going to set a course for him that will drive his thoughts and actions for the next 10 or 15 years. I’m guessing he is in 6th or 7th grade and he is making decisions about what is right and what is wrong. He is looking for someone to help him navigate life, the same way all of us did. The only thing he said was that the other boy, was shooting them off. He was protecting the other kid. The way he talked to me, I could tell he was a little embarrassed about getting caught doing something he shouldn’t be doing. I’m pretty sure I noticed them right after they shot off the first couple bottle rockets. When you are caught almost immediately after doing something wrong, it is more jarring. I could tell he knew he was wrong and didn’t want to drag the other boy in.
I don’t know him and I don’t know why he is hanging out with two kids I do know. But what I do know is two 6th grade boys and a 9 or 10 year old girl are shooting off fireworks unsupervised in the alley between the house where one of them lives and where their landlord lives. You should also keep in mind that this is all taking place in the inner city, the ghetto, a place where almost all of our white readers would be afraid to go. A place where you, as a parent, would never let your child play unsupervised. If you are reading this and know me personally and don’t already live here, I cannot imagine any of you thinking it would be fine for your 9 year old daughter to be shooting off fireworks with two slightly older boys in an alley anywhere near where I live. You don’t have to feel guilty or anything because we wouldn’t let our kid play unsupervised here either.
I know the mothers of the boy and the girl. Both are struggling. They are struggling in ways I can’t even imagine a person struggling. They haven’t made great decisions, but then again, I can make terrible decisions when I am faced with challenges, hell, I make terrible decisions when everything is going fine. They need other people step in. They need more than just Meg and I trying to help push their kids in the right direction.
I think now would be a good time to circle back to the framework for racial reconciliation we have been talking about in a couple of posts here and there. It’s really just an idea now, I don’t think I ready about it anywhere, but I couldn’t promise you it was an original thought. Here it is again:
- Grow in empathy
- Spend time in poor, black neighborhoods
- When you see something odd, attempt to look at it with an empathetic lens
- Use that lens to view injustice (things that aren’t right)
- Attempt to fight injustice by helping people level up
You can’t get to step 5, because you don’t have a relationship with the families of the two kids I knew. But you can get up to step 4, which will make you want to put yourself in situations where you can make step 5 happen. I would challenge you to think differently the next time you view something that is odd or out of place as a reason to avoid a situation, when actually we should dig in a little. Those kids need more of us seeing what they are doing, and responding with empathy in a way that pushes them to level up. One small interaction between a kid and her landlord isn’t going to change anything. What is going to make some actual change is enough people with resources spending enough time in places they would normally avoid with the intention of growing in empathy to help empower people to make changes that will positively effect their quality of life.