"There's a group of teens outside writing on the building wall."
That's how I met Tony, one of my favorite teens ever. It obviously didn't start off well. You see Tony was part of a group of teens who were vandalizing our library building one afternoon. When we officially met he was sitting in a chair outside the director's office as we discussed whether or not we were going to call the police and press charges. Tony was the only teen we caught, the others had all ran away. In the end, it was decided that we would not call the police and he was going to come back the next day and clean it all up, which he did.
That next day, as he washed the library walls, Tony and I struck up a conversation - it would be the first of many over a period of years. In fact, Tony soon would become one of my favorite library patrons and biggest teen programming supporters. That summer, he came to every single teen library SRC program and when he was the only one who showed up, he pulled out his cell phone and texted his friends to come. And come they did.
I saw Tony date and break up with girls, get his driver's license, and eventually get a job. He was a master at Guitar Hero; he could play so well that he often played with the guitar behind his back. He was the guy everyone wanted to beat after school at the Tuesday TCH (Teen CoffeeHouse, where there was ironically never any coffee served). It turned out that he was a teen with strong leadership qualities; teens wanted to go where he was and do what he was doing. He was a good teen to have as an advocate for the library. To be honest, despite that first misstep, he turned out to be a good guy all around.
In May of 2011 Tony graduated from high school and I friended him on Facebook now that he was a legal adult and I was moving to a different state. I had grown to care about the young man that he was becoming and wanted to keep in contact with him. It's fun to hear him post updates about writing English papers and how hard college is. And it's nice to know that in some small way, I helped him become the young man that he is: I at least gave him some tools to help him know how to write those English papers I hope.
What does this all have to do with MLK day? MLK was definitely a man of inspiration who challenged us all to see people differently and to make a difference in our world. On that afternoon - we all chose to see Tony differently and gave him the opportunity to make a difference, and it certainly paid off. If you allow yourself the opportunity, you can have a Tony or two in your professional life and know that together, you made a difference. That's all I can ask for as a teen services librarian.
As I honor and respect MLK's dream, I have a dream of my own: That I can be a strong advocate for teens and library services to teens. That by introducing teens to a wide variety of amazing reads, they will find the 1 book that speaks to them and challenges them to step boldly into the world and follow the examples of people like Martin Luther King, Jr. and truly make a difference. Sometimes a spark is all you need.