By Vicky Ness
Lately we’ve been watching the awakening and passionate action of new generation of social activists who are coming into their own across the country. And we need them now more than ever. We hope to see not only a commitment to our country and community, we also depend on the gifts they offer: fresh eyes with which to see ourselves, a new voice that can speak the truth, and a passionate spirit willing to stand up to injustice.
Some of our youth, however, have been marginalized to the point that they don’t recognize their intrinsic self worth as a child of God. Nor do they understand their own real power to shape our future. They have, in effect, been silenced. So maybe we need a new rite of passage that can guide and support all our youth, but most especially those who have been affected by the toxic effects of continual discrimination and violence, and who are at risk of causing further harm both to their community and to themselves.
How could one go about creating a new rite of passage for those youth who are struggling?
You would need to begin where they are, within the context that they actually live in daily –one that can include systematic discrimination, casual violence and the blank face of apathy. If we call ourselves people of God, we need to then model the values we hold as imperative to living a life of integrity and compassion. Of almost equal importance, we need to support the true potential that we see in these youth, and to deeply listen to the stories that they tell with respect and compassion. Finally, we need to go with them in their journey to gain the courage and confidence they need to make their way in the world.
At Restorative Resources in Santa Rosa, we use a process rooted in ancient practices of community, called an Accountability Circle, where the youth sit in circle formation with other youth and adult mentors who guide the dialogue. As part of the process, the youth are given a necklace, with the expectation of earning beads that represent values that are the mainstay of growth to healthy maturity.
The first bead to be earned represents wisdom. We begin by asking them questions that help them to consider their beliefs, attitudes and values. Deep changes can’t happen without this inner work of answering“Who are you, truly?”“What do you value in the world?”“How can you use your personal power to reflect your values?”
The second bead represents courage. As the youth share the story of the behavior that caused harm and identify who was impacted, the other youth in the circle are asked to offer their unconditional support so that the one telling the story learns to trust his or her own courage in speaking truthfully to the harm they have caused.
A New Rite of Passage for Struggling Youth
The third represents confidence. This stage is about taking the responsibility to “make it right”and to create a plan that helps to heal the harm caused. The young person is recognized for having made a difficult personal journey–having faced their fears, misconceptions and challenges with new found confidence, honesty, courage and integrity.
The final, fourth bead represents respect. The process is complete once the youth has completed their plan. In a closing ceremony, we honor their journey and the faith they’ve shown in having a commitment to grow at a deep level. And we also celebrate the enormous value that they can offer to our community both as neighbors and as mentors for a younger generation following behind them.
As in any initiation into adulthood, respect for oneself and others is a primary goal. Through processes like this one, those youth who might otherwise be turning their back on a community that may well have rejected them in the past, are now engaged and reintegrated back into their community with the tools to create a new way of living in the world. And in the process, they will help us all be a little more honest and considerably more compassionate of the differences and challenges we all face as members of the community we call our human family.
Vicky Ness is a freelance writer who works with Restorative Resources, a restorative justice nonprofit organization in Santa Rosa, California.