Two Days Learning from the Youth at B-SAFE

As in past years, several of us volunteered in the B-SAFE summer program at St. Luke’s Church in Chelsea.  During lunch, I joined several 14 and 15-year-old boys—and fully expected that conversation would be stilted in view of our age differences. 

However, their first question caught me by surprise:  “What do you think of President Trump?”  Recognizing a heated subject, I replied that everyone has a right to their political views but I personally do not like the way our president treats people. This opened a floodgate: from a discussion of whom they favored in last year’s election, they rapidly moved to what I thought about the Russians. Questions raised included, “Were we not on the same side against Germany in WWII?”  After explaining the allies, I was asked whether I had lost family members in that war.  Then topics moved rapidly to, “Why did we get into the Vietnam War? Were Americans lied to?”  Next came questions about whether I remembered the Cuban Missile Crisis---an event I experienced in college and was sure would result in massive American casualties.  They loved my description of sitting with my friends in the basement of our dorm---singing sad songs to guitar music—as we prepared for the end!

Segregation and Martin Luther King required a fairly long discussion:  “Was President Kennedy really in favor of civil rights?”   “Did he and MLK get along?”  “Did you know about Malcolm X?”  (My sister worked at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, the night of his assassination.)  “What do you think of the episodes of police brutality?”  “Did you know any Black Panthers?”   Fortunately, I did live through that era and could answer honestly----however, I stopped short of “remembering” the Civil War. 

On the second day, I complimented the young men on their knowledge of politics and history.  They are much more astute than I was at their age.  Questions on this day continued on the Vietnam War and 9/11, i.e., “Where was the plane going that crashed in Pennsylvania?” They were extremely impressed that the passengers had tried to overcome the hijackers. 

At that point, I decided to ask my own questions such, as had they ever heard of the draft?   They had not so I explained it to them—including the impact on young people when I was growing up.  I also suggested that since they are interested in politics, they might want to meet a judge---fortuitously Carol Ball was in the kitchen!  (They had never met a judge before and were quite impressed!)  I also asked them if they knew what a jury is—which necessitated a lengthy description, including the expectation that they would serve as jurors in the future. 

While our discussions were far ranging—and could have gone on for hours---lunch was over.  So, my final question to these young men was, “What frightens you the most?”   The answer was swift---“a nuclear bomb on Boston.” 

As I left Chelsea, I realized what an honor it was to spend time with these fine young people---their thoughtful questions belied an interest in history, their place in it, and the fears and challenges as they mature.  It was so reassuring to know that they—so curious in their thoughts and ideas—will, with support, grow into productive adults contributing to the country’s future.   B-SAFE is a haven for these youth---and our small part is providing food---but also entering their world, sharing ideas and experiences from which we can all learn.  For this, I am thankful.

By Anne Sheetz, B-SAFE Volunteer from Old North Church