MOMENTS WITH YOUTH
On the Spot
’m sitting in a circle in a large room with fourteen students in my class, four youth, and a youth worker, a member of our research group who invited our class to the shelter for youth where he works. A few minutes ago, he took us on a tour. Then we walked here, to the administration building, to discuss what we saw and learned.
One of the youth is telling us about the shelter, his history in foster care and his goals in life. It seems like a speech he has given many times. I’m a little uneasy about how much he’s sharing, but the youth worker is letting him go. At one point the youth talks about how he’s learned to play the system, and I wonder if he isn’t playing us. His fast talk and nervous, cocky body language tell me something is still very unsettled in him.
Then he says something like, "My foster mother wants me to pay for a pair of pants. I ain’t payin' for no pair of pants. She gets money for that every month. Why should I pay?" He looks across the room at me. "Professor, I want to know what you think? Is that right? Should she make me pay?"
I begin to contemplate what to say. I learned long ago not to let myself be set up as an expert, but I still feel uneasy about in being in this position.
But before I can answer, the youth is distracted by a comment from someone else and shifts to another part of the room. As the conversation continues, I wonder what I would have said, maybe something like,
On my way to my car afterwards, I think about how, even after years of study and practice, I am still uneasy and uncertain in these situations, and how understanding these moments is an important part of the work and my life. A gift.