Youth

Police Brutality and the Black Community: the (White and Nerdy) Public Health Perspective

Earlier this year I began organizing a non-profit mentoring group which reaches out to urban youth in the Rochester community. We shuttle them to colleges and universities to discuss high school graduation, college enrollment and various other topics. While recruiting for an event on the phone, a parent asked me about transportation. We provide public bus passes, I said.

“No,” she responded.” I don’t want my child shot dead by any cop,” and she hung up.

I remember sitting by my office phone for what felt like an eternity, trying to grasp the magnitude of what I had just heard. To put it stupidly, I was shocked. I had never heard anyone speak with such transparency on such a grave matter. In an ugly moment I began to blame her. Why distrust a system designed to protect her? Doesn’t she get it? In my experience, police had always protected and served me! It made sense that the system would work for everyone else too.

But as the cold unsettling silence of the dial tone began to choke me, I realized that my limited, pampered perspective did not grant me a right to judge a fear I did not understand.

No shocker here

I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood. Coastal California. Where nearly everyone graduates on time from suburban high schools, and the kids are not shot by cops or dealers, and the one girl who did disappear (over twenty years ago) has a large wooden reward sign still posted, reminding the town of its rarity of misfortune. We don’t fear the police. The only time you fear the police is when do something wrong: you are a criminal, you are on the highway speeding, you are drinking underage (or are indulging in some rebellious combination of the three).

I inherently trust the police. I was taught to. I now have a cousin who is a cop and he is a wonderful human being; once, I was even let off of a speeding ticket just for knowing him.

So there I am hovering over the phone in my delirious state. I think of the kids I have met and have worked with: smart, wonderful teenagers trapped in an environment that undervalues them. I realize for the first time in my life—a year removed from moving to Rochester, and after months of mentoring urban youth—that their fear was horribly real. A pervasive fear, unending. I think of all the statistics I’ve heard about and have seen, and I realize racism isn’t just an idea or an inconvenience, but that it is actively working against them, inhibiting their lives.

White culture shock. How embarrassing. It shouldn’t even be a thing, I know. But it is! The world I grew up in was an insular luxury. Truman’s Seahaven. “Fight the Power” was on MTV, and I consumed the entertainment.  Now I find my wonderful world has a bitter aftertaste of ignorance. (more…)

The Mirage of Health (or, Some Body Scream)

Health care is my newest hobby. It’s pretty fun. I’m like the Six Hundred Dollar (deductible) Man. I never had health care growing up, so access is still new to me. The whole “Go to the doctor when you don’t feel right” is a little odd. But when the semester ended, I finally gave in and yelled “ALRIGHT” to my body and took it in for an oil change or three.

SIDE NOTE: This is no Obamacare message, kids; I had to have it for college. Obamacare, however, I have no real issue with despite its $300 million faulty website.

I’ve been playing catch-up. Doctors here, dentists there, dermatologists here, physical therapy there. It’s become apparent that my body is no longer the free-spirited albatross it once was. I used to pass doctor’s offices like a bicycle passes gas stations. “No thanks!” I would yell, though really, I didn’t even see them. But health is something I actually have to think about now.

And you should see me, really, selecting boxes on forms and explaining details to assistants like a novelist. “The pain in my knee visits like an ill-fated wayfarer in late winter’s morn, a bitter kiss of chillness, a choking warmth of distasted familiarity, financing terror in—”

“So it hurts here?”

“Yeah…”

(more…)

The Hunt for Red Jobtober 3: White & Nerdy & Inner City Youth

I watched Mary Poppins for the first time. It was a prerequisite of sorts. See, my wife and I we’re going to see Saving Mr. Banks at the cheap theatre, and though I grew up watching TV with a cupboard full of VHS tapes, Mary Poppins never once stopped by my house. “A spoonful of sugar” is a lot of sugar. That’s all I’m going to say.

Okay, I’ll say a little more. While watching Poppins, I realized that I am a Bert of sorts. In the film, Bert (Dick Van Dyke) never seems to be doing the same thing twice. He has four different jobs: one-man band, chalk-artists, chimney sweep, kite salesmen. He’s an unpredictable cockney, and I couldn’t help but love him.

SIDE NOTE: Saving Mr. Banks was a wonderful picture. You see it?

As the blog title suggests, I’ve had another “vocational realignment.” I’ve pulled a Bert (awkward), working where I never have before: the inner-city.

White Boys Can’t Hump

Last semester, I had a job at Wegmans (a New York grocery store chain) making coffee in their “Buzz” cafes. Wegmans is a great place to work and shop. There’s a strong sense of local pride that permeates off the walls, and it makes you feel like you’re apart of something special. While the coffee itself was not very good (Northwest coffee snob, ova-heer!), the job was a good one.

A new job opened up in a social program that works with inner-city youth, encouraging them to graduate high school and go to college. Yes, coffee can be a worthwhile vocation, but bad coffee is bad coffee, and I needed something a little more meaningful. So I learned about the program. I realized it would be like mentoring, like working in a youth group again (which I loved!), minus the cheesy Christian songs and dealing with “visionary” pastors and elders. Sounded absolutely wonderful to me. (more…)

New Beginnings Abound! (or, Mr. Hungry, my Frightful Friend)

I started a new job today. It’s a mentorship program for at-risk youth in the Rochester City School District. I’m still learning what organization does what, which branch represents which function, and who exactly I’m working for (the U of Rochester, I think), but the building, at least, is labeled the Center for Community Health. Specifically, my program is UR BOLD (Building Outstanding Leadership and Distinction).

A startling statistic I heard today is that only 10% of Black males graduate high school in Rochester (9% Latinos). Crazy, eh? If there was ever a job for a skinny, white, redheaded kid from California… I’m not sure this would be it. However, I’m up for the challenge! I couldn’t be more excited.

The past two or three months I’ve been working as a barista in a local grocery store. The job was okay; I had to wear a goofy hat and listen to my coworkers talk about boy problems while making microwaved breakfast sandwiches. Overall, the job weighed empty on my shoulders. I needed something meaningful.

SIDE NOTE: It doesn’t get more meaningful than coffee; however, this grocery chain isn’t what one would call “speciality” or as I like to call, “good.”

(more…)

Matlock, The Angel of Death

Since last week’s wetsuit incident, I’ve been thinking about my failing youth. A good friend once told me that getting old is a process of many realizations. The first and most important, is understanding that the world doesn’t revolve around you.

I would amend this statement by saying hurting your back is definitely the first sign.

Have you ever pulled a muscle in your back? Geez. It’s terrible. You have to buy heat/ice packs and think about what type of shoes you’re wearing.

Andy Griffith and Carol Huston star in Matlock.Just put on Matlock already; I’m done. Count me out.

Getting Older

We were at a small group last night, and one of the couple’s kids starting spinning in the middle of the floor. He thought we were all there to watch him.

It made me think about my friend’s statement—the one at the top.

I used to be like that kid. Everybody used to be my audience and I’d always have the floor. What’s changed?

Is it my understanding of adult civility, a mellowing out of my extroverted nature, is it something else?

Getting old has it’s privileges. I’ve talked to many people about it. There was one lady I got to know at my old job in Idaho. She claimed she didn’t feel comfortable in her own skin until she turned 50.

That’s cool, I guess.

Wife Proverbs

Yesterday Megan and I walked to the end of the Avila Beach pier. As usual, I complained about everything. My back. How I couldn’t boogie board anymore. My world was over.

She said, “You know, the world doesn’t end just because you can’t do something.”

She was right, as usual. The world doesn’t revolve around me. I’m getting older.

I suppose there’s nothing I can do about it but enjoy the ride. Enjoy each day I have, hurt back or not.

Sometimes though, I’m selfish and I want to be young again. Not a teenager, not even 21. I want to be 6 or 7. I want to be back at that place; the place where I’m spinning in front of the room. Where everyone is looking at me. They didn’t come to see me, but now they are.

photo

From the Avila Beach Pier

Would that be so bad?

As usual, I’d love to hear some feedback. Any advice on getting older? Any advice on pulled backs? A good Matlock episode?