There are moments when the only way individuals can get through tragedy and loss is by banding together as one community. Last week, St. Stephen’s Youth Programs (SSYP) suffered an immense tragedy with the loss of one of our teens who died suddenly and unexpectedly. This was then followed up by the election of Donald Trump, the culmination of a contentious, often hate-filled campaign season. These events brought a host of complex emotions for both staff and teens, as we all tried to navigate the variety of different feelings we were experiencing. Grief, anger, frustration, fear, and a certain numbness to what was happening within our immediate community and more broadly within the country at large gripped us all. However, as is often the case, we found that it was incredibly important to turn toward each other and unite as a community to help us get through this time.
On Thursday, November 10th, all thirty-two teens and the entire adult staff of the Teen Programs sat together in a community circle to reflect on the week. Led by our long-time social worker Rebecca Garcia, the group was able to use the restorative justice model of healing circles to create a safe space to share what we were all going through. Students and staff talked about the grief they were experiencing. We shared the fear and uncertainty we felt with the outcome of the election. Teens talked about how they were afraid for their families and didn’t know if some family members were going to be allowed to stay in the country. They talked about the sadness they felt surrounding the loss of a community member. Students expressed an anger toward a country that had elected a president who has routinely spouted hatred towards people just like them.
And yet, out of the circle came a strong sense of love and hope for the SSYP community. Students and staff held each other as they cried, and all of us were able to know that we were in a place and a group that would always be supportive. Teens expressed a deep love for both the St. Stephen’s community and each other. They were able to find strength in one another, knowing that they were surrounded by people who loved them and who would be there for them no matter what these next four years (and beyond) bring.
Over the past week, it has been easy to be overcome with sense of hopelessness around the state of the society and democracy. However, one thing that became clear last week was that there is hope for and in our community. The strength and resilience that our young people demonstrate on a daily basis should be proof that we will be able to rise above the hatred that we see on the television news. Instead, we can replace it for a love of one another, knowing that together we have immense strength. I personally walked away from the meeting last Thursday with a deep sense of gratitude for the strong community that has been built here. I know that SSYP will continue to fight so that our young people have the opportunity to pursue their own dreams in this world.
By Jeremy Kazanjian-Amory, Senior Manager of College Access and Success