by Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Coordinator, ChildFund Americas
Perhaps like many of you reading this, I check my Facebook page – often. In fact, it’s a core part of my morning routine.
When I arrived, Elaine, our Mississippi area manager, shared some startling statistics about poverty – and, more specifically, the way that institutional systems of oppression in the U.S. and Mississippi have reinforced poverty conditions within the African American community. In the communities where ChildFund works, African Americans disproportionately experience poverty, unemployment/under-employment, incarceration, teen/unwed pregnancy and school suspension/expulsion.
Related to these statistics, we learned what children in our programs personally report feeling, the risks they identified in their lives and the positive resources they seek out in their families, peer groups, schools and communities.
We went on a brief tour of program areas recently affected by Mississippi River flooding, passed dilapidated closed-out storefronts and eventually pulled up in front of a small brick building that was clearly a bank turned library turned community resource center. Yes – the same resource center I had just read about on Facebook that morning. Happy dance.
We met Jasmine, Toneca and Mr. Jamison. We heard firsthand how the resource center came to be — how it truly was an initiative dreamed up, advocated for and enjoyed by the youth themselves. We asked the young ladies who took the lead on this project what differences they were seeing in the community as a result of the resource center. How did other children see and treat them now that that they had made a difference? I was eager to hear why they volunteer at the center and what future goals they have. What else did they need in their communities?
It was a delightful and eye-opening chat. Someone in our group happened to have an Internet-enabled phone, so we showed the girls the ChildFund article about them on Facebook. They giggled with pride seeing their names, faces and story.
Then one moment caught our collective breath. After recapping the history of all that happened with the center and how her life has changed as a result, we asked now 15- year-old Toneca how all of this attention makes her feel. She looked down somewhat sheepishly and paused to reflect on the question. Her eyes rose, she looked the person in the eye and emphatically responded, “Like a hero.”
We sat silently for a second then erupted into applause. She was beaming.
Often life is about subtle timing. I just happened to meet these young ladies in the Mississippi resource center after I had just read about it online. But more important, ChildFund was at work in the community right when a youth leader – a youth hero – was emerging. Perfect timing.