The Accidental Ally

The Accidental Ally

I remember getting the late night phone call that two young men from the youth group I led had been arrested and put in jail. They were African American brothers who lived with their very conservative grandmother. On top of being in jail, they had also found out that their grandmother kicked them out of the house, so now they were homeless.

They had gotten into a fight at a local gas station that was racially charged, and one of them used his belt buckle as a blunt weapon defending himself. The local police department arrested them on the ambiguous charge of “Suspected gang violence”.

At the time I was pretty young, single, and lived in a rather large, church-owned parsonage. To me it made a lot of sense for these guys to have a safe spot to lay low and let things simmer down with their families. The problem was, I wasn’t family and I didn’t know how to make that happen.

So, I contacted a local attorney that I knew to take their case pro-bono. He bargained with the DA for the brothers to be under my care for six months with certain stipulations (I.E. getting a job, going to school, obeying a curfew) in exchange for their release and reduced charges.

With that started some of the most important six months of my life learning more about what it meant to be a young black teenager in a small town. I learned about systemic racism, fatherlessness, inequities in the education system, and police brutality. My life was never the same.

But, this post isn’t about that. I’ve been thinking a lot about this period in my life lately, for good reason. I’m so thankful for those months of learning and laughing with those guys. Yet there has been another question nagging me as I’ve considered race in our country – why was it so hard for them, yet so easy for me?

These guys got into a scuffle at a gas station. The video footage showed that it wasn’t much at all, but it was a fight. And it ended up with them in prison, homeless, and with multiple school suspensions. Their entire futures were put in jeopardy for a fight.

I on the other hand was living in a home, basically rent-free, that was WAY too big for me. All I had to do was make a few phone calls to find the right people to help. And for some reason, the DA considered me trustworthy enough to release them to my custody, even though I wasn’t family.

You see, the more I think about this story, it wasn’t that I was special.

I was white.

There should have been zero reason those brothers would have been released to me with such ease. Local law enforcement asked very few questions. There was no house visit. It was just a brief meeting with me, the DA, and their attorney.

For those who do not believe white privilege exists in this country, I ask you to be more self reflective. I’ve always loved thinking back on this time, but what I should have been thinking about is how inequitable everything was. Why was I so easily able to pull strings for their release, yet the hammer fell so hard on their shoulders for a mere fight?

You see, I was an accidental ally. I, through my whiteness stumbled into a situation where my whiteness was able to benefit a person of color. Yet, white privilege was so strong in my mind that I didn’t even understand the inequities I was up against, and yet still used my whiteness to get what I thought was just and right.

I write this during a time of great upheaval in this world along the lines of race. Hard questions are being asked of white people and systems that we have been ignoring for far too long. In so many areas, I’ve been an accidental ally – a white person willing to help when asked, and feel good about myself when my whiteness creates better outcomes for people of color. Most of the time I don’t even realize I’m doing it.

That is how powerful white privilege is.

In this particular story, I was merely an ally. I helped and I learned, but I didn’t use what I learned to challenge the system on behalf of my friends. Now it’s time to be less an ally, and more a co-conspirator. That is, locking arms with my friends of color and using my privilege to affect change at the systemic level.

We at Teen Life believe there is much to be done in the arena of public education in terms of race and equity. As an organization, we believe we can do better in naming race and injustice in the schools we serve and work towards better, anti-racist policies – especially around discipline, justice, and mental health. We want to do this on purpose, and with conviction.

But this is the lane we operate in. Think about where you operate and serve. What do you care about? How are the organizations you care about asking the hard questions around race and equity? How can you be asking hard questions around race and equality to affect positive change in your arena?

We would love to engage with you on this – please comment below with your response!

Chris Robey

Chris Robey

CEO

Chris has worked with teens from a variety of backgrounds for over a decade. He has a desire to help teenagers make good choices while also giving their families tools to communicate more effectively as choices are made.

5 Areas of Focus for Social Distancing

5 Areas of Focus for Social Distancing

Listen & Subscribe:  iTunes | Google Play | RSS

 

Here we are…still social distancing! In this podcast episode, Chris and Karlie discuss 5 different areas of focus that can help shape this unique time of social distancing. They will talk about the importance of…

    • Physical movement
    • Mindful moments
    • Self-care
    • Tech breaks
    • Generosity

It is so vital that you take care of yourself and encourage teenagers to do the same. We might have to change our expectations, and that is OKAY. But let’s make the best of this time of social distancing due to COVID-19! While we hope that life can return to “normal” soon, we want to continue to equip teenagers to grow, learn, and thrive today while also maintaining hope for the future.

 

Resources:
In this interview, we mentioned the following resources:

About Us:
Chris Robey is the CEO of Teen Life. Earlier in his career while working as a youth minister, Chris earned a Masters Degree in Family Life Education from Lubbock Christian University to better equip his work with teenagers and families. Chris’ career and educational opportunities have exposed him to teenagers from a variety of backgrounds. Follow him on Twitter!
Karlie Duke is Teen Life’s Marketing & Development Director, joining Teen Life after graduating from Abilene Christian University with a degree in Communications and a minor in Family Studies. Karlie has worked with teenagers for the past 8 years and is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram!
Have a question?
If you have a question about something you heard or just want to give us some feedback, please leave us a comment below.  We would love to hear from you!
Navigating COVID-19 with Teenagers

Navigating COVID-19 with Teenagers

 

Listen & Subscribe:  iTunes | Google Play | RSS

 

In this episode, Chris and Karlie take time to catch up about how the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is impacting teenagers and life in general. As we continue in this new and uncertain situation, join the discussion on how you can personally deal with COVID-19 to better help teenagers. We talk about self-care and how adults can model stress management for the teenagers in our lives.

It is important to stay positive, especially when teens are paying attention to our words, moods, and stress levels. Teens know what is happening – let’s be honest, they are on social media more than most of us – so Chris and Karlie also talk about what they need to hear from you.

Your mental health is important. The mental health of teenagers is important. Let’s make an effort to have positive conversations about COVID-19 with the kids and teens in your life.

 

Resources:

In this interview, we mentioned the following resources:

About Us:
Chris Robey is the CEO of Teen Life. Earlier in his career while working as a youth minister, Chris earned a Masters Degree in Family Life Education from Lubbock Christian University to better equip his work with teenagers and families. Chris’ career and educational opportunities have exposed him to teenagers from a variety of backgrounds. Follow him on Twitter!
Karlie Duke is Teen Life’s Marketing & Development Director, joining Teen Life after graduating from Abilene Christian University with a degree in Communications and a minor in Family Studies. Karlie has worked with teenagers for the past 8 years and is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram!
Have a question?
If you have a question about something you heard or just want to give us some feedback, please leave us a comment below.  We would love to hear from you!
We Got This: COVID-19

We Got This: COVID-19

We are living in strange times these days. But I assume you already know that.

Who would have thought, even a month ago, that a flu-like virus (aka COVID-19, aka coronavirus) could shut down such a large portion of the western AND eastern world? Big brands are closing stores to limit contagion, restaurants are closing dine-in seating, governments are imposing curfews and quarantines. Schools have “extended” spring break for various amounts of time, depending on where you live.

Someone bought up all the toilet paper.

I read this article a couple days ago and it calls this a “Pearl Harbor moment” for America. It’s an interesting analogy on a couple levels. Before Pearl Harbor, America wasn’t going to enter WWII. It didn’t affect us. Right now, every American individual, business and government is deciding on some level, “Am I in or am I out?” Pearl Harbor hurtled us toward an unknown, but it also created allies. America rallied. Men enlisted; women volunteered. Society was changed forever. And in many ways for the better.

The current pandemic is harder to define. In some ways it’s harder to identify where to be a helper because we are used to thinking individually, instead of thinking of the whole. We buy up all the toilet paper- at best, thinking if it comes down to it, we’ll offer some to our neighbor, but we have a hard time just taking what we need and leaving some for others. We think that being at low risk for the virus means it doesn’t matter if the kids go to daycare or if we go to the zoo. We have a hard time understanding why “flattening the curve” matters enough for us to socially distance. At this point, before the real crisis, we are taking a breath. And what we do next affects everyone, whether we realize it or not.

And it’s uncomfortable. Partially because it’s inconvenient. But also because social distancing doesn’t feel as concrete as volunteering. No one is getting community service hours for staying home and limiting contact with people.

It’s a hard concept. But staying home is the selfless thing to do. Ask any of my Italian friends. (This video is a great snapshot of what they are saying.)

It’s also an opportunity.

It unites us.

We are all in the same boat. Italy, France, Norway, China, South Korea, the United States…parents, teens, toddlers, infants. We are socially distanced, but in many ways, we are more connected than ever. We are allied in experience and emotion, and for the first time in history we are able to personally witness that experience and emotion and to participate together. Seriously, when was the last time mega corporations kept stores closed for the greater good?!

Stay home, but take advantage of your time to emotionally connect.

Play board games with your kids.
Use some of these non-COVID related questions to spur dinner conversations with your family.
Eat meals together!
FaceTime your parents.
Send cards to people in nursing homes.
Sit on your front porch and talk to your neighbor (sitting on their own front porch).
Call your friend you haven’t seen in a while.
Maybe make a friend who is quarantined in another country. I bet they’d love to practice their English.
Use the situation to teach teens to toddlers about why what we do affects the people around us.
Maybe we’ll find a solution to the digital divide for teens from hard places!

We probably all need a reboot and a slow motion moment together.

We got this.

Kelly Fann

Kelly Fann

Marketing Assistant

Kelly has lived in three countries and worked with teens across the world, encouraging them to pursue their passions and to be kind.

Peace on Earth

Peace on Earth

I have been listening to Christmas music. It’s one of my favorite things about this season. Many of my favorite songs sing about peace. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Silent Night, Do You Hear What I Hear, The Little Drummer Boy, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. The words Peace on Earth ring throughout these songs. And yet, when I look around Christmas doesn’t look peaceful to me. It looks more like Black Friday shoppers fighting over a cheap TV.

Black Friday Chaos
It looks like managing a full calendar of events similar to this.
Full Calendar
It looks like spending hours picking the perfect gifts and managing expectations of what Christmas should look like.
Perfect christmas
Versus what it actually does look like.

It also means spending time with family – for better or for worse depending on the situation.

As we approach these last few days before Christmas, here are a few ideas on ways to add peace to your Christmas.

  • Set apart some personal time. Instead of always being with extended family and friends, set aside an afternoon or evening or a weekend to have a low key no pressure schedule.
  • Set appropriate boundaries. I know this is easier said than done. But say no, when you need to say no. Be purposeful in what conversations you engage in over the Christmas dinner table.
  • Set realistic expectations. For yourself. For your kids. For your family. Check out this post if you need some ideas!
  • Breathe! No matter what. Be sure to keep taking deep breaths!

From all of us at Teen Life, we wish you a peace-filled, joyful, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Beth Nichols

Beth Nichols

Program Director

With her background in social work and experience as a mom of 4, Beth’s perspective is invaluable. She has had the opportunity in both her personal and professional life to encounter youth from a variety of situations.
Seeking Connection

Seeking Connection

We are hard-wired for connectivity.

In the wake of another high school tragedy, I’m ever more convinced that we are losing the art of connection. I say this because, in the case of Nathaniel Berhow, none of the people he interacted with regularly had any clue that he was angry or sad or depressed enough to walk into Saugus High School and shoot five people. He was a “regular guy” who kept to himself.**

We are made to be connected, yet so many of us feel disconnected. Not just alone in a crowd, but lonely in a crowd.

Too many people lack the connectedness of authentic relationships. People who know you, who see you.

I was recently struck by something author and life coach, Martha Beck, said. “Loneliness is proof that one’s innate search for connection is intact.”

Chronic loneliness affects up to 47% of Americans and an estimated 9 million people in the UK according to MDLinx. People long to be connected and seem to be coming up short.

Even more astonishing is that people who report suffering of loneliness also have mortality rates similar to those of a person smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

15 cigarettes a day!

A 2018 study by Cigna and Ipsos found that among the lonely, Generation Z is the loneliest. The study notes that “Feeling like people around them are not really with them, feeling shy, and feeling like no one really knows them well are among the most common feelings experienced by those in the Generation Z (adults ages 18-22).” Students were also found to be the loneliest.

Loneliness plagues our society: the chronically lonely and everyone, who aware or unaware, knows someone who is lonely. Or who will at some point in their own lives feel lonely.

There are many reasons why loneliness or feeling disconnected from society might require external intervention. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help.*

There is one solution that both sides of the equation have in common. It’s obnoxiously simple.

Be kind.

Simple acts of kindness are the easiest way to start building connections.

If you are lonely or sad or angry, take a small step toward healing with some small act of kindness.

Even if you don’t feel like you need anything, but want to make the world a better place, go out of your way to be kind to someone.

In looking beyond our own feelings and seeking to help others, we build connection where none existed and strengthen connections we already had. Because kindness can be the heart of connectivity.

In the 1970s, Dr. Robert Nerem performed a health study using rabbits. The crazy thing is that he discovered as much about the importance of kindness as he did about health. The rabbits that were supposed to be declining in health fared 60% better when they had a caretaker who was kind to them.

The results are two-fold. It actually improves your own mental health and consequently your own physical health when you consider others first. And it improves the health of the people around you too.

One of our favorite books at our house lately is Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller. The main character asks, “But what does it mean to be kind anyway?”

I think most people over 10 can come up with a few simple examples, but it seems that many people over 10 have trouble executing on them.

Here’s the thing. It’s so easy to start.

Hold a door open.
Make eye contact and smile at the cashier the next time you check out.
Ask a friend how they are doing and actually wait for the answer.
Take cookies to your neighbor.
Volunteer at a local charity.

You can choose a commitment level. Kindness is usually free. It doesn’t have to take much time. But it changes everything. Better yet, it connects us all.

We are a lonely crowd.

But we don’t have to be.

And maybe we can start healing the tragedy that is plaguing our schools and communities. Maybe we can start seeing the Nathaniels in our midst. It probably won’t fix all the problems. But it might be a good start.

*If you are lonely and looking for more ideas on where to start, check out this article from Good Housekeeping.
**To read more about high school shootings, have a look at our 2018 post, Combatting Fear in the Face of School Shootings.

Kelly Fann

Kelly Fann

Marketing Assistant

Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. She has gained experience working with teenagers through work, volunteer, and personal opportunities.

Kelly has lived in three countries and worked with teens across the world, encouraging them to pursue their passions and to be kind.