“You are the reason I wake up every morning happy to go to work. You are the reason I feel so lucky to get to do what I do. When I was your age there were a few people who treated me with respect. Who listened to me and made me feel like I had great potential, like perhaps my dreams could come true. They showed me that—to them—my questions, my confusion, my frustrations, and my pain were real, were important.
When I went through difficult times and I felt like I had lost my voice, no longer knew who I was, and doubted that I could accomplish anything of value, when I lost my ability to dream, I remembered those people and how helpful, that was. I could picture them in my head telling me not to give up. I wanted to be that for young people. A voice of encouragement. Someone who treats them with respect. Perhaps someone that can help them see their value and potential.”
Those are the words I tell students.
It isn’t uncommon for students in our Not a #Number prevention education classes to push back on some of the topics we discuss, like victim blaming. Sometimes, when I notice a high level of resistance or sense the group is having a hard time trusting and connecting, I pause the conversation and try to build rapport. In that moment, I tell them about the reasons why I do what I do.
I’ve always wanted to be a mother.
I remember being 12 or 13 years old and realizing how blessed I was to have a loving and caring family. I understood that not everyone had the opportunity to feel loved, nurtured, and protected. Not everyone had a chance to feel like they had a place or group of people where they belonged.
As I grew older, I painfully learned more and more about how some children not only lack love and compassion, but they experience neglect and abuse at the hands of the same people who were supposed to love them.
Sometimes I wish I could forget the horrible stories I’ve heard, read, or witnessed. I find myself responding like I did when I was a child and first began to understand there was darkness in the world—wishing that if I close my eyes and try really hard, not only could I forget, but also somehow those stories would not be true. It can’t be. It is not possible that one human being could endure so much pain, so much horror.
Now that I am mother, when I become familiar with new stories, I think of my own baby—the thought of anyone deliberately harming her, betraying her trust, or abusing her vulnerability makes me gasp for air.
It is all around me, on the news, in conversations with people I meet, in the stories youth share in my classes. So, how do I go on with life and work? How do I cope with the possibility of vicarious trauma or just feeling overburdened and discouraged by the darkness around me? How can I keep teaching and working in a field related to the exploitation and abuse of youth and children?
I will never forget a statement by one of my professors in college. After class, when asked by a student about how to leave a legacy in the world, the professor, who was a very intelligent man and knew so much about cultures and religions of the world, said, “The most important thing that you will ever choose is whom you will marry, for the sake of the children you will have, if you have any. Choose carefully and wisely. The most significant legacy or important thing that you can do for this world is to raise a healthy, happy and free human being.” I don’t think any of us expected that answer, but what he said about children has stuck with me.
Because of my experiences, I now understand my calling to motherhood is more complex and holistic than what I initially thought.
When I am in the classroom and implementing Not a #Number or training new facilitators. When I get to speak the words that the children have never heard from their parents. When I get to make eye contact and look at them the way their mothers, for whatever reason, are not able to look at them. When I have the privilege of representing my organization and our supporters and say to the young ones, “We care. You deserve better. Reach out for help, someone will listen. You do not deserve your abuse,” I feel like I’m taking on the role of a mother in our community.
So how do I go on when there are difficult stories in the world that I cannot make disappear? How do I teach my daughter that there is beauty and hope in our world, when I see so much of the opposite?
I think about the adults, surrogate mothers, fathers, and grandparents who treated me with respect and encouraged me. I think of my co-workers and the leadership of Love146 so gracefully working toward abolition in spite of their own experience with pain and darkness in the world. I think of our supporters who sacrificially give, raise awareness, and invest in the young people in their lives. I think of the teachers, counselors, and other professionals I come across who show me they care and they are voices of encouragement and resilience in the lives of so many vulnerable youth.