Last Saturday, I got my official advocacy training for the Partnership Against Domestic Violence (yay!). I can finally get started with the internship now! I have started!
In case you didn’t get the notification from my Linked In update, PADV has taken me on as one of their Teen Prevention Interns, which means I get to go to high schools and after school organizations and whatnot and talk to teenagers about teen dating violence, the warning signs, and what to do if God forbid you find yourself in that situation.
The training was heavy and enlightening and I took copious notes (thank you, high school history teacher, for teaching me how to fill a notebook) and also took notice of how the facilitators facilitated and how the activities they used for a general volunteer training could translate into teen dating violence contexts (thank you, VOX adult guide-on-the-side, for teaching me to always be META meta).
The facilitator said next we were going to do an activity where we had to answer some pretty personal questions and could she get five volunteers? My hand shot into the air. Then we did a different version of the Walk of Privilege, one that focused a lot on money and support systems growing up.
Did you ever go on a vacation out of state before turning 18? (I take one step forward).
Did anyone ever discourage you from going to college because of your gender? (I stay where I am while a few other girls step back).
Have you ever had to skip a meal because there wasn’t enough money? (Again, I stay where I am while a couple of other people shuffle backwards).
Have you ever been afraid to walk through a certain town because of your race? (Two steps backward).
Is your native language English? (Yep).
Did your parents go to college? (Bachelor of Arts and Masters in Engineering).
Did you grow up in a neighborhood with a lot of violence? (Sure, if you count my grandmother stealing ferns from someone else’s creek).
Do your parents own their own house? (Yes, and 3 acres along with it).
I ended up in the very front.
Was this a fluke? I wondered. It couldn’t have been, because it only showed my position relative to the other 4 participants.
But dude, I thought. This can’t be. I’m a Black. Muslim. Woman. And I drive a beat-up 1995 Nissan Sentra. The air conditioning at my house is broken!
The hot seat was an uncomfortable place to be in this context. What if the people behind me hate me? I thought. But then I looked behind me and realized that it probably wasn’t much fun to be in the back either. I could walk away from this uncomfortable exercise back to the house my college-educated parents own and I wouldn’t even have to think about what happened that day–because the definition of privilege is pretty much the ability to walk away. From the news. From social justice movements. From anything that’s uncomfortable.
That’s what I’m not gonna do.
When I told my mom all about it, she was just like, “you didn’t know you were privileged?” so I’m starting to think maybe I have been one of those ignorant brats who spend their whole lives in a bubble and don’t care to examine their world through the lens of others’ experiences. Black Muslim woman can be a cop-out sometimes, at least for me. Because the truth is, maybe I’ve got a good brain but I didn’t graduate as valedictorian and end up at a prestigious women’s college all on my own. I had a whole crew of family and teachers who told me I was gifted over and over again, and that gave me so much confidence academically that I felt there was no problem I couldn’t solve. Not everyone has that. I went to one of the best elementary schools in the state of Georgia, where there was food and carts full of Mac computers and smart boards and gifted programs and really, really good teachers. Not everyone has that. And I breezed through senior year of high school with a whole slew of parents and teachers and counselors who knew what they were talking about when they told me about the SAT and the FAFSA and Common App. And I had VOX. I had adults with Masters’ in Social Work I could talk to other than my parents when things got screwed up. Not everyone has that (which is part of the reason that 1 in 3 teens has been in an abusive relationship with a partner already–there are not enough trustworthy adults in the right places in the world).
This exercise was helpful because as a facilitator, I’m supposed to meet people where they are and I can’t do that without knowing where I’m coming from. If you put your destination in google maps but not your location, how are you gonna get there? My mentor at VOX likes to say that facilitation is not about you. Now that I can recognize that I’m in a position of privilege, I see it as my duty to talk less and listen more. And be the trustworthy adult that too many teenagers are missing.