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RevolTeens: Being the Change and Leading the Way by Christine Lively

Often when I sit down to write this column, I have only a vague idea of what teens may have been up to in the last month to shake things up and fight the system. I usually search through articles and posts to see what has been happening and keep reading until a pattern emerges to be woven into a column.

This month is different. Teens are making headlines and are at the forefront.

As I have written before, so much of the major change and revolution of thinking in this country has started with the young – teens and young adults whose passion compels them to take a stand and use their voices to be heard. These teens have thrown aside the low expectations that adults have for their activism and have ignored the rules around who gets to be heard. They’re not waiting for the world to change, they’re charging ahead and demanding that the world change now. These are the RevolTeens, and they’ve been busy, brave, and successful this month.

Following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, protests erupted across the country and they continue today. The passion of the protesters has not faded. The protests against police brutality against Black Americans and against racist policies, monuments, and violence haven’t just happened in big metropolitan areas. These protests have happened in towns large and small and many of them have been not just attended by RevolTeens, but organized and led by them as well.

In Nashville, Tennessee, six teens organized and led the largest protest in the area in recent memory. Jade Fuller, Nya Collins, Zee Thomas, Kennedy Green, Emma Rose Smith and Mikayla Smith who range in age from 14 to 16 all met on Twitter. They realized they had a shared desire to speak out after the murder of George Floyd and decided to form Teens4Equality through a group chat and then on Instagram. Soon after that, they reached out to other organizations to form a coalition and organize a protest. The Black Lives Matter Nashville helped organize the protest, but gave full credit to the RevolTeens who made the protests possible.  As Zee Thomas explained to the Huffington Post, “As teens, we are tired of waking up and seeing another innocent person being slain in broad daylight,” Thomas said in a speech during the event, according to Nashville Scene. “As teens, we are desensitized to death because we see videos of black people being killed in broad daylight circulating on social media platforms. As teens, we feel like we cannot make a difference in this world, but we must.”  These young organizers didn’t let their age hold them back from having their say. “We wanted to show people that no matter how old you are you have a voice and can make a change,” Emma Rose Smith told HuffPost.

Sixteen year old Stefan Perez got off a city bus in Detroit and joined up with a group of protesters who were heading to Police Headquarters. By the end of the night a few nights later, he had emerged as the leader of the protests, raising his fist and calling out for calm and safety as the protesters took a knee with police officers around them. Later, someone handed Perez a phone. When he answered, he found that the Mayor of Detroit Mike Duggan was calling to tell him how amazed he was at Perez’s leadership and that he brought tears to his eyes.

After speaking with the mayor, Perez said: “That was amazing. … I didn’t think I was gonna make it to 16. … The fact that people follow me … and the fact that the mayor just spoke to me, the fact that the Detroit police didn’t shoot. And they could’ve. It’s just amazing. I’m glad I’m not a statistic, because I could be.” The Detroit Free Press reported. Perez didn’t wait for permission, a degree, or any membership in a group. He saw what was happening and turned his passion into action and leadership by revolting against injustice.

Video of Stefan Perez in Detroit

https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/detroit/2020/06/02/stefan-perez-detroit-protest/5314686002/

Finally, teens are speaking out in writing. The Gothamist  has this to share, “Our photographers have been out documenting the historic moment, which is part of a larger national, youth-driven movement working to defund the police and end systemic racism. With hundreds of photos, we asked New York City teens to choose one that resonated with them, and write about it. Below is a piece from Tevelle Taylor, a 17-year-old from Brooklyn, who attends Benjamin Banneker Academy. You can follow him @tevelletaylor

WHAT I SEE

I Am That Fast-Paced Heartbeat At The Encounter Of Police

I Am That Shock Welcomed Into The Mind Of The Majority When The Black Man Can Pronounce His Words Correctly

I Am That Last Breath Taken By George Floyd

I Am That Anger Aroused At Every Melanated Achievement

I Am That Unopened Pack Of Skittles & Arizona Drink

I AM

I Am Suspicion When Two Or More Black People Are Gathered Together

I Am The Loss Of Gravity That Compels The Arms Of Black Men To Float, In An Effort To Cease Intimidation

I Am That Relief After Hearing The Metal *Click* Of The Handcuffs Cutting Off The Circulation Of Every Innocent Black Man’s Wrist

I Am The Sorrow Felt By The Little Black Boy When His Parents Tell Him That He Can’t Play Cops & Robbers

I AM

I Am The Slowing Down Of Black Body Movement When Being Spoken To By The Men In Blue

I Am The Confusion Awakened After Seeing A Black Man Knowledgeable In His Rights

I Am The Sharp Pain, Inflicted By The Cops, Giving Him A Reason To Shoot A “Resister”

I Am The Gravitational Force That Sinks The Hearts Of Black Mothers When They Hear That Their Son Became A Gun Target

I Am The Unfinished Jog

I Am The “Strange Fruit”

I Am The Antonym Of Privilege

RevolTeens are taking up the charge. They are changing the world, and we are lucky enough to follow them to the future.

About Christine Lively

Christine Lively a school librarian in Virginia. I read voraciously, exchange ideas with students, and am a perpetual student. I raise monarch butterflies, cook, clean infrequently and enjoy an extensive hippo collection. Christine blogs at https://hippodillycircus.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/XineLively

RevolTeens: The Lies We Tell and the Teens We Hurt

This week’s RevolTeens will be a little shorter in deference to the holiday weekend and will have a different focus. While I have used this space to highlight the mighty teens who are challenging the systems that confine them and demanding that their voices be heard, I’ve been thinking a lot about what helps or shuts down teens who see injustice and prejudice, and what makes the difference between the teens who revolt and the teens who remain silenced. I don’t claim to be any expert, but I’ve noticed some things that we adults can do to help.

First, we have to stop lying to kids.

Lies like, “You have to go to college.” or “I can’t make any exceptions” or all the other things we say just to force compliance and make our jobs easier have got to stop. When we dismiss a teen’s concerns or questions with these lies and platitudes, we are telling them that their concerns, problems, and passions are not important or valid. Teens always see through our lies and they are smart enough to know which adults can be trusted or not. When we tell them that adults are the authorities and that change or challenge of the status quo is impossible, we are lying to them. If we don’t know the answer or we’re not sure, there’s nothing wrong with saying so honestly and figuring it out with them. Teens respect honesty, not dishonest authority. Pretending that there is only one way to do things or one way to be successful is a lie. If we expect and hope that the young people of today will change the world at some point after they become “adults,” we have to be honest with them. Yes, there are challenges and traditions and other obstacles, but these things can and should be discussed and confronted. We can model that with them by engaging in difficult conversations about who holds the power and who makes the decisions. We can give them agency by telling them what actions they could take and what the repercussions are and then let them decide. We can advise and listen. The moment we lie to them, we lose all our credibility and our ability to help them. Lying to teens is just saying to them, “You cannot trust me.”

Next, we have to stop acting as if bad things don’t happen to them.

Yes, this is a form of lying, I know. Bad things happen to everyone without exception. We suffer losses and setbacks and we receive devastating news. It’s a universal indiscriminate human experience. Many well meaning adults work hard to protect kids’ innocence, but as Chris Crutcher told the ALAN Conference audience, “Innocence leads to ignorance.” When we shelter or protect kids from loss and pain, we invalidate the inevitable loss and pain that they are feeling. When we talk about and acknowledge their pain and help them find ways to work through those awful and overwhelming feelings, we help them build empathy for themselves and others. Telling a teen that they shouldn’t talk or read about the pain of losing someone they love, or of becoming critically or chronically ill, or of any of the ways that life causes pain, only teaches shame and robs their peers of the chance to help their friends. It doesn’t make the pain stop, it just makes them feel alone and ashamed. We don’t have to know what to say, we just have to listen and care. Truly, that is the greatest and most powerful way to help a kid know that they are loved and that their pain and eventual healing is important and universal. We need to stop telling them that their pain isn’t “appropriate” for discussion or for reading about. Instead, we have to make space for that pain and help them see examples of other people who have suffered pain and survived. We have to help them see their pain as survivable by talking about it and showing them how to help each other and themselves.

Finally, we need to expand what success is.

We all see the stories of teens who are accepted into every Ivy League school, or who get perfect scores on their SAT or who start multimillion dollar businesses. Those kids are lauded. Those kids are inarguably successful. Kids earn superlatives throughout school, and that’s wonderful – for those kids. But I know that there are other successes for other kids. Getting up in the morning and just showing up for school is a victory for many students. Raising their hand and contributing to a class discussion is a win for many students. I’m not talking about “participation trophies” because those are too generalized and maligned. Those of us who work with teens everyday know that so many of them have given up on themselves as early as upper elementary school when they start failing state tests. It’s devastating to see happen. Those kids need to be acknowledged for what they do well. We just have to take the time to help them find their successes. They may not realize that they’re the first ones to help another student or that they ask the questions that others need answered. They may be taking risks and challenging themselves in some areas. Those triumphs are just as important as a different student who gets straight As. They’re all important. They should all be acknowledged. Success is relative, ever changing and elusive. We can help kids find theirs so they’ll believe in their own possibilities and potential for more success.

I take for granted that we all want the teens of today to be the happy, productive, world changers of tomorrow. We can help them see what’s possible or we can snuff out their faith in themselves and their belief that the world can be more fair and just. If we are honest with them, acknowledge their pain, and celebrate their successes, we can embolden them to change their world and upend the status quo.

RevolTeens is a monthly column by librarian Christine Lively. Christine Lively a school librarian in Virginia. I read voraciously, exchange ideas with students, and am a perpetual student. I raise monarch butterflies, cook, clean infrequently and enjoy an extensive hippo collection. Christine blogs at https://hippodillycircus.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/XineLively