Several years ago, I was told something that stopped me in my tracks while interviewing a young African-American male who had committed multiple homicides before the age of 18. During our interview I had only one question I wanted, no needed, to ask him, “Why?”
The answer he gave sounded simple, but in reality it was very complicated. He told me he killed because he had “something to prove” to himself. That he was no coward. That he wanted to feel good about himself, about his life.
He believed that no one would mess with him, or his and most of all he “wanted to be feared”. He went on to say that everyone would know he was a killer. He, like some of our young men, believed killing would forever give him the respect and power that the straight and narrow path could never provide. In fact, he felt that taking the life of someone else made him as powerful as God by destroying anything God could create. In his mind killing made him somebody. It made him a man.
Unfortunately, he forgot one thing in his search for respect, God created him. Several months following our conversation he was murdered. He was shot several times in his face and head. His body was stripped naked and dumped into a garbage bin. Someone who came to believe what he believed turned God’s miracle of life into disposable trash.
That young man taught me a number of lessons during our brief time together but the one that most influenced me on how we engage our youth partners is that we must care for them insanely and love them unconditionally.
We must show them through our lives that real power does not come through violence, but through love.
Our love must help them feel safe, because it is consistent and can be trusted.
Our love must confirm that they are somebody, because it recognizes and affirms their potential and worth.
Our love must show them what it means to be a man or woman, because that will determine their success in life.
What encounter with young people most influence how you work with them? Share your thoughts in the comments section here. I would love to hear from you.
Robert E. Brown