I did not want the importance of Blog Action Day to slip by even though I am up to my eyeballs in final edits on the book.
For those of you who haven’t heard:
On October 15th bloggers everywhere will
publish posts that discuss poverty in some way in support of Blog Action Day.
By all posting on the same day we aim to
change the conversation that day, to raise
awareness, start a global discussion and
add momentum to an important cause.
It isn’t about the money
I feel wildly, completely and passionately committed to helping youth fight poverty.
From the age of 20-30, I was a martial arts maniac, training and teaching the Afro-Brazilian style of Capoeira. I co-founded a program called the Community Action Project (CAP), where we offered free classes to local youth that lived in poverty, rough neighborhoods, and with difficult home lives. We started with just one youngster, Jimmy Jarquin, a shy, chubby 14-year old immigrant from Nicaragua who fled the war with his Mom and settled in the Mission district of San Francisco.
Jimmy brought his cousin, then another kid joined. Soon, a small group of youth were training hard. The program grew by word of mouth. The kids were passionate, dedicated and enthusiastic. We grew to 250 students in San Francisco, Daly City, Oakland and Hayward.
I taught the martial art classes along with co-founder Master Preguica, but also spent a lot of time in conversation with the kids. We talked about family struggles. Drugs. Homework. Girls. College. The regular kinds of challenges faced by teenagers in an urban setting. I wiped tears. Gave hugs. Proofed papers. Gave unwanted dating advice, just as any good Mom or Auntie would do.
And the kids responded. Compared to an average 50% high school graduation rate for their neighborhoods, we had a 98% rate. Many went to college. Most steered clear of drugs, gangs and alcohol, huge magnets in their environments. Many opened capoeira schools themselves, teaching kids in their local communities.
Without the support of programs like ours, there is no question in my mind that many of the kids would have been dead or in jail. Many were already in gangs when they came to us, and got out. They had brothers, fathers, mothers and sisters dealing drugs and in jail. There wasn’t a lot of hope.
The secret ingredient was not money but love. Good, old fashioned caring and concern. These kids that looked tough and menacing on the outside were desperate for a bit of parental love. It was like magic.
So instead of worrying about donating money when times are tough, why don’t you do this instead:
- Find the local Boys and Girls Club in your area and volunteer. I don’t care what you do, your presence, positive attitude and encouragement will help some young people.
- Connect with a young person in your own family. You don’t necessarily have to work with an organization to make a difference. You could make a big impact on a niece, nephew or grandchild that wants the support and love from a trusted family member.
- When you see a young person on the street, no matter how different they may look from you, smile at them. They need to feel that adults are encouraging. Don’t be afraid of them — they are all our children!
- If you have the time, teach a class. My dear friend Carlos Aceituno was a shining example of a great teacher and father/uncle figure. It doesn’t matter what your area of expertise is — accounting, computer programming, music, dance, your skills will be appreciated.
- Support your local youth arts and community programs! Fight to preserve programs that serve youth. Nothing makes me more angry than talking about young people in urban
America as a scourge, a "problem" that has to be dealt with. Punishing
and locking up youngsters will not help. The love and support of
positive adults will not only keep them out of trouble, it will totally
alter the course of their lives. If I had to bet on the outcome of juvenile hall (aka prison training ground) vs. structured, active youth programs to change lives, I will bet on the programs EVERY time.
Jimmy turned into a world-class athlete, and now teaches youth in his own community. That is him in the center of the photo in the top row, flexing his muscles and showing off his hard-earned 6-pack abs. I am so proud of him I could burst.
A few posts I have written in the past referencing my precious kids from CAP:
Youth is my passion, but you can still blog about whatever cause gets your heart racing. Check out the Blog Action Day Get Involved page.
Emily (my editor) if you are reading this, sorry I stopped writing the book for 20 minutes! I couldn’t help myself. 🙂