I’ve been thinking a lot about hope, lately.
I live in Baltimore and for the past few weeks, we’ve been in the news for peaceful and violent reasons. We’ve seen the entire spectrum of protest, from burning police cars to calm speeches in front of City Hall following the death of Freddie Gray, a Baltimore man who died from injuries sustained while under police custody.
Baltimore has always been a city of contrasts, but for many teenagers, this has been their first look at how stark the shadows can be.
Like many cities, Baltimore has problems: poverty, drugs, violence. Caught up in these societal earthquakes are teens of every class and color. But there are teens who live in neighborhoods like the one where Gray was born and raised, where teens spent a particular Monday afternoon throwing rocks and bottles at police. In these neighborhoods, you’re more likely to be poor than rich, more likely to need money than to have it.
What’s it like to be poor in our rich Western nation? One of my friends from high school knows very well. We never knew how poor she was, as she hid it well. She never invited us over to her house or told us where she lived. She covered her lack of school lunches with talk about diets. She always had an excuse to leave when our group did anything that involved money.
Later on, when we were older and we finally got to talk about it, she said growing up poor was like being flung into the middle of the ocean without a lifejacket or a raft, and not being able to swim. Her family was always in debt. They were always behind. They were always drowning.
She felt forgotten, looked down on, less than human.
But she had hope. She hoped that things would eventually get better. Coaches encouraged her to pursue her talents, teachers helped her highlight her gifts. She stayed out of the realm of drugs and alcohol, violence and teen pregnancy. Hope, she said, was the one thing that kept her going. She could see the light at the end of the tunnel, so she was motivated to work harder.
However, so many teens today don’t have any hope at all, whether they’re fighting poverty or depression.
There are systemic problems in this society, problems of race and class that cannot, and will not, be solved overnight. I believe, however, that applying a bit of hope and love to the situation is a pretty good place to start, no matter how young or old you are.
Instead of throwing rocks, bottles and bricks, teens can pray, volunteer, speak out and work for peace. Teens can encourage their friends, advocate for their communities, and make things better in small ways, such as collecting coats for the homeless and canned goods for food pantries. Teens can help their friends who are affected by negative forces in their lives.
Hope fixes things. People who have hope can see light in the darkness. People who have hope can make their lives better. People who have hope work to better the lives of their families and their neighbors. People who have hope find they are less exhausted and more motivated. People who have hope look forward to their future. People who have hope stop drowning, even if the ocean is still almost too big to fathom.
Sometimes, all people need is a lifeline.
You can prove to the world that teens are about hope, not violence. You can help solve the problem by standing up for hope.