This summer has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve encountered thus far in my career. There were many moments of painful growth but through trial and error I learned how to persevere. This internship at the Boys and Girls Club truly taught me how to challenge the systems and policies set in place. In general, I believe that a lot of policies in place are of some use and good in nature but when it takes precedence over saving actual lives that is when it becomes problematic. For my final paper, I wrote about how imperative it is to challenge certain policies especially when they aren’t addressing the root causes of certain behavior. Ultimately though, I am excited about returning to the Boys and Girls Club in the Fall and working with the other staff who are willing to implement new programs and policies to truly change and impact our students lives. I look forward to more growth and experiences :)
(For the protection of students at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Kalamazoo, names have been changed to tell this story)
“Miss Traci, ZoZo acts just like a little girl….ewwww” “Miss Traci, Zozo switches like a little girl he is going to be gay when he grows up!”
I can’t count on my hands and toes how many times I’ve heard this this summer or any variation of the two. First of all, let me say this; we have a very strict NO-BULLYING rule at the Boys and Girls Club and all the kids in involved were handled accordingly. But much bigger than that, I have to constantly ask myself what the F!c? are we teaching our kids about gender and sexuality? But it’s not incredibly shocking to me because I used to think the exact same way. What’s shocking is hearing children between the ages of 6 and 13 talk with so much surety that the way someone acts denotes their sexuality. Oh the work the future GWS professors will have cut out for them :0…..The problem that I have been having is that even with the knowledge and education about this that I am trying to give the kids, i feel that its not enough. Yes I can continually tell a child that first of all, saying someone “acts like a girl” and then to take it further and decide that he’s going to be gay is wrong but I only have that influence 6 hours a day. When they leave me, they have parents who are reinforcing these stereotypes, music that is bombarding them with all types of messages and uneducated peers who are engaging this type of behavior. But like most other things I have encountered this summer, I am slowly beginning to realize and accept that the village is thinning out. There are a lot of people who frankly don’t care if our kids are educated on societal issues. Even with that though I understand that is has to be addressed and hopefully this summer they got a glimpse of understanding which will help them become more well rounded individuals.
The day after the park incident, my co-worker and I continued the conversation about what had happened the day before. We even had a hard time dissecting race, class and privilege in America as we both have very different view points. She is a white woman and I am a black woman. We both care deeply about the kids and we both recognized yesterday as a very uncomfortable situation. She expressed that she as a white woman couldn’t relate to some other white people who are still uncomfortable with race. Where we differed in the conversation is when she said “We have to tell them to respect themselves so that other people can respect them.” While I agree with that notion, I disagreed with the fact that everyone who respects themselves gets the fair opportunity to be respected and viewed just like everyone else. My experiences as a black woman is much different from hers as a white woman in America. She couldn’t understand what I was saying or coming from because she grew up in a family that “didn’t see color.” We had a heated debate for a while and I felt myself getting upset but something beautiful came from that conversation. She reminded me and brought to light a situation I never thought about. A couple of weeks ago she accompanied me to a beauty supply store where everyone in the store was black. She said no one overtly made her feel uncomfortable or unwelcome but it was that unspoken thing like “what does this white girl know about black hair and beauty supplies.” I pondered on that for a long while and I really began to appreciate both of our experiences. We both have the same goal. We want our kids to be educated and respected in our America. Everyone doesn’t think like us though. So our collective burden is how do we continue the conversation in our boys and girls clubs, communities and even on a national level. I think through our conversation on the way to work we found that only through understanding and acceptance of EVERYONE’s struggle as real do we combat the unconformability of race in our country. We all feel it and we all must face it for change to ensue.
I felt a very strong conviction today; one that comes with being a parent or simply from loving someone very deeply. I felt over-protective and ultimately I felt a sense of responsibility.
We took about 25 of our kids to a Kalamazoo county park where they had various pavilions, playgrounds and a super cool “splash pad.” When our supervisor came back from scoping the area out she said, “We have community members occupying the park so make sure everyone is on their best behavior.” So when I walked up to the park with my group and saw that there were no community members that looked like my kids or myself I became anxious.
Everyone at the playground was Caucasian. For me, normally this would be not be a big problem as I am pretty much used to this scenario but I was worried for my kids. I wondered how they would be treated. I was anxious to see if they could go play with the other kids without the stares and the look of disgust. I wondered if they would be looked at as children or savages. I wondered if they would be made to feel like they belonged there or would they be treated as if they should have chosen a different park. All these thoughts overwhelmed me and unbeknownst to me it was showing up in my body language because my supervisor asked me multiple times was I okay. Truthfully was not okay. It bothered me that I was having these thoughts; I didn’t want to feel so insecure for my kids but I couldn’t help myself.
I sat back and watched about four families leave the park, while other parents who were sitting on the bench went to get closer to their kids. I also sat and watched about three other families leave the splash pad area completely and head to the other side of the park. There was even a point in time when no one was left on the splash pad area but us and the other parks were completely filled with those who left and those who came in afterwards. I literally felt like I was in the 50s where segregation was legal and it was some imaginary sign that said “whites only.” But was I over-thinking? Were my own insecurities causing me to think too deep into a situation that could be a complete coincidence? But I knew I wasn’t. I even expressed my feelings to my other co-worker and she said she felt the same way.
I am not saying in any way shape or form that the families there were racist or that they were raising their children to that way either. What I am saying is that we do NOT live in a post racial society. This may seem like an obvious thing but so many people believe that we do. Today showed me that there is so much brokenness as it relates to race within in our communities and we quite frankly don’t know how to deal with these emotions or feelings. We choose to segregate ourselves for whatever reason and commune with those who look like us. As I looked around the park, I noticed that the families who left and retreated to the other side of the park attracted families that looked like them also. As families were walking in, it seemed as though they felt more comfortable going to an area where there were familiar faces than going to an area where there were a lot of super excited black children.
It was uncomfortable. This is uncomfortable writing this because I still cant make complete sense of exactly what I was feeling or why I was feeling that way. All I know is that my kids went to that park and had a blast! They were oblivious to everything others and I were noticing. They didn’t bother a soul. They simply wanted to play in the hot sun and splash each other with water puddles. & I wondered why it couldn’t be that simple. Why I couldn’t just ignore what was going on around me and focus on the kids having a good time. I was really too busy wondering how their future would look like when they did become more aware of this world that we live in. I wondered how they would be treated when I wasn’t around or another adult wasn’t around to protect them. I worried about what would happen when they realized that because of the color of their skin some people would not accept them. That sometimes they would walk into certain environments and feel totally unwelcome. & That they would feel completely crazy sometimes because they would have feelings that not everyone could relate to because the feeling of being the “other” is sometimes a silent, less obvious one.
And tomorrow we’ll go back to our little bubbles and continue to teach and empower, uplift and build them up. Is it enough though? I’m wondering if they’ll be able to live in a world where color doesn’t matter. If everything they’re being taught will matter to the world. Will they be able to treated as equal. I think today I felt the brunt of having a passion. Its not always glorious work and regardless of if they get to experience this “perfect” world or not, our work is necessary and we have to fight to believe this every single day. It starts in our bubbles and hopefully spreads to the world. Hopefully.
Saturday evening (August 1, 2015) I attended the “Teaming up for kids”event where PJ Fleck was the keynote speaker. Not only was this my first time really hearing about him (not a huge football fan lol) but I also didn’t know that my life would be impacted by his words in the way that it was. It was such a spirit filled event & I was blessed to be around Kalamazoo’a finest donors, philanthropists & just all around amazing souls. It really put into perspective for me not only the work I’m doing at the Boys & Girls Club but the work I will do for the rest of my life. I came to Western because the non-profit leadership program really drew me in. I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to giving back to communities around the world. Money is not the goal at all because as long as we are givers I truly believe that God will make sure that all of our needs are met. Even though non-profit work is sometimes draining, the results are not always favorable and the impact is not always tangible, it is a work that must be done by people willing to sacrifice their lives for the betterment of our world. Ultimately we are securing a better future when we give back to youth in any positive way. I am still in awe and so grateful for the opportunity.
This past Tuesday, I was afforded the opportunity to accompany the Health and life skills coordinator at the Douglas unit. I was intimidated at first because I am used to working only at one location and working with “my kids” so I really didn’t know what to expect. The Douglas unit is in an extremely impoverished area on the north side. But from the moment I entered the building until the time I left, I felt nothing but love from everyone. We ran a SMART Girls program where we got a chance to talk about hygeine and the girls made lotion. The conversation was not only informative but also quite hilarious. Talking to girls ages 9-11 about their periods, body odors and the infamous “v-word” can be quite the task. The girls warmed up to me immediately and it was so amazing to spend time with them and be able to feel like I am apart of something larger than myself. I truly believe that the information that was given to them that day is something that will stick with them forever and ultimately help them when they least expect it. What I am realizing more and more through the experiences at the boys and girls club is that it doesnt matter what the actual facility looks like, what the staff looks like or even the kids; what matters most is that effective programming is taking place that allows the next generation to grow. I can’t wait for next week!!
Hello my name is Traci Burton. I am a offically a Senior here at Western Michigan University!!! *ques trumpets* My major is Film, Video and Media studies with a double minor in Non-profit leadership and Gender and Women’s studies. All three of those things seem slightly unrelated but each of them embody who I am and what I would like to contribute to this world. Ultimately I want to change the world. Through television and media, I plan to spread the love of God through inspirational content. I want to eventually own a non-profit and change the funding policies for urban school districts. These are all long term goals; as of right now I am working for the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Kalamazoo as the summer arts academy drama instructor. This has been both a rewarding and trying summer as I learned so much about the politics of non-profits. I will detail these experiences on this blog and hopefully have a chance to look back and appreciate all I’ve gained.