Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Being the Change at Challange Day

I came home yesterday at 3:00 about as physically and emotionally drained as I've been in years. In a good way. I spent 8 intense hours, from 7am to 3pm with 90 junior high kids and 20 parents and teachers, and 2 facilitators from the Be The Change organization. Challenge Day is built on Ghandi's words "Be the change that you want to see in the world". Our friend Katie Green was involved in her school around the Be The Change movement and invited Cathie and I to participate last year. I was out of town, but Cathie was able to do it, and loved it.

The goals of the day is to break down bullying and cliques in schools by helping kids to look at each other differently. The idea is that if kids understand the stories of the other kids around them and understand the impact of their words and actions on others, they'll choose to behave differently and start a chain reaction.

The school's pay around $10k to bring in the facilitators for a couple of days and put this on, and they do this for kids ranging from 7th - 12th grade, and corporate events as well. I was told that they cut the budget in the high school and are only doing it in the middle school this year.

The event starts with a quick orientation for the adults at 7am where they bring adults together, connect us a bit and tell us what they're looking for. The kids come in from there and we spend the next 7 1/2 hours with no more than 5 minutes of downtime for a bathroom break and a quick lunch break. The whole event is intense.

The two facilitators work on a very tight script, and manage the room of 90 kids with ninja-like abilities. I know some great junior high youth pastors, but none that can handle 90 kids, pretty much solo. The adults are really participating in the event with the kids, and really aren't called upon to much more than the same thing the kids are asked to do. The event moves at such a fast pace, in such close proximity to others the entire time, that the kids don't have a chance to screw around or deviate much.They controlled the energy level and level of intimacy in the room with tremendous precision. 

I've been through facilitation courses, and have run my share of junior high events - but this showed me everything I don't know. It was like going to your first karate lesson, thinking you know a few moves, and then watching two ninjas battle.  It was a whole other level of good.

We started out with a bunch of games at a very high energy level and some quick 5-10 minute talks, all designed to bring the group closer together emotionally and physically. The facilitators shared their stories and set the bar for what sharing would look like in the groups. They taught the kids to hug, talked about the importance of good touch like that, and talked about some of the reasons people would not want to hug (past abuse, homophobia, etc). In the end, they had junior high guys and girls hugging each other like it was not a big deal. That in itself was amazing, to break down the barriers for a junior high guy to comfort another junior high guy by giving him a hug.

They then broke us up into "family groups" of 6 - 1 leader and five kids. From there, we listened. They modeled how to listen for us, it was as simple as going around with each kid have two minutes to answer the questions:
  1. If you really knew me, you'd know...
  2. If you really, really knew me, you'd know...
At two minutes each, our group listened to the kids share some heart-wrenching stories about their family lives, to them and their parents: abuse, neglect, suicide, alcoholism, being picked on, being called all sorts of names: bitch, whore, trailer trash. It broke my heart to hear their stories. The adults had to share as well, and I think I was as nervous as the kids.

We'd move from our family group times, to larger group time, and to an event at the end that was amazingly powerful. They lined us all up on a line and would call out certain characteristics. If those characteristics fit you, you crossed the line, turned around looked back on the larger group. The characteristics ranged from the color of their skin, to those who have alcoholics in their family, divorced, adopted, poor, made fun of for being short, fan, complexion, death of a parent... The activity was amazing in showing a couple of things:
  1. It showed the kids things about their peers they never imagined, stories that they didn't know were there.
  2. It showed the kids that they're not alone in what they've gone through.
Nate's feedback at the end summed up what I hope a lot of kids took away, which was awareness:, "Dad - I didn't know that stuff (physical abuse, drug abuse, alcoholism, homelessness) happened in South Lyon - I thought it was just in places like Detroit."

At the end, they gave kids the chance to get up and tell their stories to the larger group - answering the "If you really knew me" questions to the group at large. As a group, we got to hear some of their stories, and what kids are going to do differently. Reconciliation took place amongst kids, kids heard the impact of their words and actions in these stories.

I walked out of there thinking that this day really could make a difference in the school. If kids learn to see through different eyes - eyes of compassion, love and respect and then choose to treat people differently, and stand up for others as well - I think it could really change things.

Whether you're listening to Be the Change, Ghandi, or Jesus, I think the message of the bible holds true around loving others:
4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
1 Corinthians 13
I know for myself that I can't achieve that kind of love and compassion on my own. I know that following Jesus and doing what he says has been the only way I've been able to make lasting change like this that lasts beyond a given event or observation.

If you know Katie Green, she's a great example to me of a high schooler (and now a freshman in college) who really lives out 1 Corinthians 13 and Ghandi's idea to "Be the change that you want to see in the world" in her school, friendships and time, putting her actions and relationships, especially with junior highers.

Check out this video that shows a clip of the "Crossing the Line" exercise I mentioned earlier that was shown on my brother Jon's favorite show, Oprah:

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