As the facilitators of My Sista’s KeepHer we understand that even the givers occasionally become empty. On Friday, there were at least 50 educators and mentors sitting in a semi-circle in the gymnasium at a local middle school. Generally, our audience is packed with students who have been waiting for years for someone to ask what they thought and felt about life. Today, there were all adults of different ethnicities, ages, and experiences. Most of them had the habit of being private. Most of them, I believe, knew the dangers involved in ‘telling your business’ to strangers. The energy in the room was calm and slightly reserved. We, the facilitators, were anxious. The truth is that our target audience is middle and high school girls. No one knew exactly what to expect when we started the workshop.
Here is what we did know. The school had a few academic and behavioral challenges in the past and was looking to eradicate those problems. They called on My Sista’s KeepHer. The administrator wanted us to motivate and encourage the staff to go that extra mile for the students and their families. We were nervous. How do we, as poets, relate to the teachers who hold various degrees? This room was not filled with the students we were familiar with. As usual, we planned every detail, but this time it was different. We had to tap into a different part of our own life experiences to do our “God work”.
One of us thought about that scared little girl who lost her mom at 9. The one no one stopped to ask how she was feeling. She came to a new city and road the city bus from the north side of a strange town to the south side just to be spit on at the bus stop by some white kid. Preparing for this particular workshop, she was so nervous an hour before we were to begin that she lay in bed trying to calm what felt like a million butterflies fluttering inside her belly. She had become that 9 year old girl all over again, uncertain, awkward and alone.
One of us thought about who she was as a kid and how it affected her behavior in school. How she went from a student labeled gifted & talented to a failing student. How she spent more time in the streets than in the classroom. How it was easier to become the bad girl rather than stay the good girl. She was forced to ask herself why this happened. She had to revisit the many demons that took her off track and tell her story from the mind of that young girl who felt alone.
The truth is once we began to do our God-work, something became apparent. Everyone in that room was meant to be there. We all had stories that we had never shared. Some felt worthless and thought they may be better off dead. Some were angry at people as well as the things that happened to them as young children. Some lost their voice years ago. We, the facilitators, and the educators were all broken and scared. We had all been scarred and in that room we shared our stories. In that room we took the first step in healing. We acknowledged, we said secrets aloud. We overcame fears of judgment & ridicule. We all became like the very students we teach, and in that hour we unlocked something. We unlocked the “secret” to being not just a better teacher, but a better human. We were honest with ourselves and I believe that honesty will transcend into the classrooms. We closed out our workshop linked arm in arm, like we do in every My Sista’s KeepHer workshop, promising that we would look beyond the desk and see each student’s story and potential.