Teenagers are used to hearing what they shouldn’t do. We remember being their age. We remember how the “shouldn’ts” seemed to stack up. They filled our classrooms and the bulletin boards in the hallways at school: “You shouldn’t drink and drive,” “You shouldn’t smoke,” “You shouldn’t have unprotected sex.” Maybe the messages sank in. Maybe we tuned them out. It wasn’t hard to do. After a while, it just felt like a thousand people trying to put walls around our lives.
Not a #Number isn’t like that.
It’s not a program that makes young people’s worlds feel smaller. There are too many forces that do that already — for example, oppressive beauty standards, peer pressure, lack of community safety, and unhealthy power dynamics in relationships. In fact, the perpetrators of trafficking and exploitation are also working to make their victims world’s smaller.
The solution to these restrictive forces doesn’t come from new rules to follow or new things to fear. The solution is stepping into a bigger world.
Love146’s prevention and survivor care programs are ultimately about broadening young people’s visions of what things could be like. And that’s exciting stuff.
Recently a facilitator of Love146’s Not a #Number curriculum was implementing the program in a group home where two youth, she was told, were at “high risk” for trafficking or exploitation. It was these two that then refused to participate in the program. Instead, they sat in the kitchen, separate from the group, but close enough to hear the conversation. The first two trips she took there, they didn’t budge from that kitchen table for the whole hour. But they stayed quiet, listening while the others engaged in discussion and activities.
We can’t pretend to know what those two teenagers were thinking as they sat at the kitchen table, but we know what they heard. They heard the others analyze lyrics from 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P.,” a popular song about pimp culture, and look critically at the impact this content could have. They heard that there is an alternative to being used, that it’s not crazy to expect romantic relationships that feel safe. They heard that their street smarts, their value, their power as consumers, their power to help their friends, and their power to help themselves were so much greater than they had imagined.
When the facilitator showed up at the third meeting, there were two new faces in the living room.
“They were so excited,” she told us. The energy was high, and the students who had been in the kitchen for the first two modules took to the material quickly. They added so many insightful thoughts about the lyric activity from the week before, and they were especially intrigued by the spoken word poetry. “We didn’t even get to hand out the final takeaway activity because they all wanted to go and write poems!”
Through programs like Not a #Number, youth can use their voices in creative ways to respond to things that aren’t right and contribute to the culture they want to see. They have a bigger world to live in, one where they’re informed about the risks, connected to people who can help, and unafraid to speak up or act. And best of all, they can be dreamers. For the hour they spend together each week working on the Not a #Number curriculum, they imagine a world in which words are used to encourage and strengthen others, relationships are opportunities to grow and delight, and every young person has a community that treasures and supports them. Even better, they see themselves as active, empowered participants in that world. And that’s really exciting stuff. (Just ask those two young people who were drawn into the conversation.)