What’s Happening with Today’s Youth?

What’s Happening with Today’s Youth?

From A 2nd Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul

What’s Happening with Today’s Youth?

If you treat an individual . . . as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.

Goethe

Our young people are growing up much faster today. They need our help.

But what could I do?

My inner voice questioned me as to why I wasn’t a role model for today’s generation of young people. No, I couldn’t do that. I wasn’t a psychologist and I sure didn’t have the type of influence to create massive change like a politician.

I’m an engineer. I obtained my degree in electrical engineering from the University of Virginia. Now I work for Hewlett-Packard.

But the thought wouldn’t leave me.

So finally, I decided to do something. That morning, I called up the local neighborhood high school. I spoke to the principal, sharing my desire to help. He was thrilled and invited me to come down during lunch. I agreed.

At noon, I drove to the school. Many thoughts bombarded my mind: “Can I relate to them? Do students want to talk to an outsider?”

I hadn’t been on a high school campus for quite a few years. As I walked down the hallway, students were buzzing with excitement. It was crowded. Students looked much older to me. Most of them were wearing baggy clothes.

Finally, I made it to the classroom, Room 103, where I was to share some insight with the students. I took a deep breath and opened the door. There, I found 32 students chit-chatting. As I walked in, everything stopped. All eyes were on me. “Hi, I’m Marlon.”

“Hey, Marlon, come on in.” SHOOOOOOO, a moment of relief came over me. They accepted me.

During that one-hour session, we had fun talking about goal-setting, the importance of school, and conflict resolution without violence. When the bell rang signaling time for the next class, I didn’t want it to end. Time just flew by and before we knew it, it was already time for me to return to work. I couldn’t believe how much fun I had. I went back to work pumped up.

This continued for months. I developed many relationships at the school. Most students bonded to me. But not all the students were excited about my coming.

In fact, there was Paul.

I’ll never forget Paul. He was a real tough-looking guy, about 6’2”, 220 lbs. He had just transferred to this school. Rumor had it that he had been in and out of many juvenile detention centers. In fact, the teachers were scared of him. And why not? Two years ago, he had been sentenced for stabbing his English teacher in the chest during an argument. Everyone let him do what he wanted. He strolled to class late. Never carried a book in hand because he was just too cool for school.

From time to time, he sat in on my lunch sessions but never said anything. I think the only reason he came was to “check out the babes.”

Whenever I tried to get him involved, he just stared at me with his piercing eyes. He intimidated me. He was like a bomb just waiting to explode. But I wasn’t going to give up on him. Every time he came, I tried to engage him in the discussion, but he wasn’t interested.

One day, I had enough and the bomb exploded.

During this particular session, we were developing our “goals collage.” Students were cutting out pictures of their goals from magazines and pasting them onto a poster board. We were 20 minutes into the session when Paul strolled in.

I asked for a volunteer to share his or her goals collage with the rest of the class. Julie, a petite girl, stood up and began sharing her dreams. I was happy to see Julie stand up because, when I first met her, she was so shy.

“I’m going to go to medical school to become a doctor.”

All of a sudden, laughter broke out from the back of the room.

“Please. You, a doctor? Be for real. You ain’t gonna be anybody.”

All heads turned to the back of the room. Paul was laughing at his statement.

I was shocked. I couldn’t believe what just took place. There was complete silence. What should I do? My adrenaline was flowing strong.

“Paul, that’s not right. Who are you to put somebody else down?”

“Yo, teach, you dissin’ me? Are you disrespecting me? Do you know who I am? Look man, I’m an O.G., Original Gangster. Don’t mess with me; you’ll get hurt.”

He started walking toward the door.

“No, Paul, that doesn’t fly. You have no right to put somebody else down. Enough is enough. You don’t have to be here. Either you’re part of the group or you’re not. We’ve got a team here that supports one another. And, Paul, you have so much potential. We want your participation. You have so much to offer the group. I care about you and this entire group. That’s why I’m here. Are you going to be a team player?”

Paul looked over his shoulder and gave me a stare of terror. He opened the door and walked out, slamming the door behind him.

The class was shaken by this drama, and so was I.

After class, I packed up my materials and started making my way to the parking lot. As I approached my car, someone called out to me.

I turned around and to my surprise, it was Paul. He was walking quickly toward me. A state of fear came over me. Part of me wanted to get help, but it happened so fast that I couldn’t move.

“Mr. Smith, you remember what you said to me?”

“Yeah, Paul.”

“Did you mean what you said about caring for me and wanting me to be part of the team?”

“Yeah, of course, Paul.”

“Well, no one has ever in my life told me that they care for me. You are the first person to ever say that. I want to be part of the team. Thanks for caring enough to stand up to me. I’ll apologize to Julie tomorrow in front of the entire class.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. I was in shock. I could hardly speak.

As he walked away, tears of joy swelled up in my eyes and started rolling down my face. I had been truly touched for life. That day I decided to commit my life to empowering our young people to realize their true potential.

Marlon Smith

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