“If the young are not initiated into the village, they will burn it down just to feel its warmth.” – African Proverb
In traditional societies, parents would send their children outside of their immediate family to an ‘elder’ in order for the child to begin a rites of passage. This rites of passage gave them the opportunity to learn the social norms and mores and join the larger community. Our programs, in many ways, have become this community of ‘elders’. Which could be scary…how many of us really consider ourselves ‘elders’? And when I reflect on this, my experience has shown me that though these ‘rites of passages’ exist in our programs, they for the most part remain a latent aspect. Now imagine when this aspect of programming is powered with intentionality. This intentionality can be focused in four areas:
1. Mentored Learning
2. Practical Testing
3. Enacted Ritual
4. Community Celebration
A noteworthy point is that these four areas should not be approached with cookie-cutter responses. The four areas must be contextualized with authentic and relevant responses that invite young peoples’ out-of-school experiences and culture. To borrow from my experiences running programs in Los Angeles, our East Los Angeles program tailored those four areas in a fashion that was distinct from our South Los Angeles program, yet both were completely authentic and true to themselves and their communities. Young people AND staff did not join a program, they joined a community who had a strong sense of affiliation. Also, staff and leadership invested heavily in the design of this “rites of passage”. I would like to point out that the investment mentioned above was not solely monetary. Of more importance was the time and space allotted for staff and leadership to critically examine their programs and perform a programmatic “autopsy without blame”.
In closing, I believe that transforming our programs into communities where the youth can be initiated is not just a good idea, but a necessity. I offer some questions for you and your staff with the intent that you will engage in a critical dialogue as to how the youth are being initiated into your “village”.
• Are your programs building community? And probably even more important, is it a community worth joining?
• Are you more concerned with collecting the dots than connecting the dots? What’s the point of having all these youth in your program if no one knows their names (along with their parents and teachers)?
• What rituals are being created at the site level, organizational level? How are these rituals and artifacts (i.e. shirts, wristbands, dog tags, etc) building affiliation?
• Is your program Instagram worthy? In other words, are the activities and relationships at your site inspiring you to capture that moment with a picture?
For breakfast I had eggs, beef bacon, toast, orange juice and coffee.