I have been a part of this organization for nine years. As I write this post, I find myself needing to take a moment to reflect on that number. Wow! The time has really flown, and there is still so much more opportunity to explore. It’s thrilling!
Through the years I have held a variety of different positions…everything from Actor to Cast Manager to Artistic Director and to my most recent role as Executive Director. I have witnessed so much potential and possibilities for our world by working with young people. They are incredibly inspirational and have so much to say around their given circumstances. I am honored to be a part of an organization doing this work. I am still humbled every time I see a program and bear witness to the growth young people experience within themselves when an environment is built where they feel safe to question, reflect, and explore. Most recently, I was introduced to a story of a young person named Lupita. I felt so inspired by her, I wanted to share her story with you.
After experiencing the 2nd session of our 6 wk program, “Finding Your Voice”, Lupita approached our lead facilitators, Maya and Allyx, and thanked them for creating a space where she finally felt like she belonged; a place where she had a voice. She shared with them that up until that day, she had felt invisible at her school…like a ghost. People mostly didn’t see her and definitely didn’t speak to her. She shared that if people did see her, it was only to make fun of her. The actions of other students made her feel as if she wasn’t enough and she had never known how to change that. She, then, shared that even though that was the way it had always been at her school for as long as she could remember, she was beginning to feel differently. The more she practiced speaking up and using her voice in the program, the stronger her voice was getting and the stronger she was feeling.
After the 3rd session, the facilitators checked back in with her. She said she was feeling even more confident and shared that she appreciated that day’s session the most…how it had explored empathy and how to practice it. She was excited because now she knew how to be empathetic for others and that she might be able to helps others be empathetic too.
I was able to drop by this school for the 4th session of the program and after it concluded, the school counselor stopped by so excited to share a story with me. It was a story about Lupita. The counselor prefaced the story by telling us that Lupita was a student that tried very hard to not speak up in class. She was usually withdrawn with such low confidence that even when she did say something, it was difficult to hear her. The counselor went on to tell us that just before the program that day, Lupita had seized a moment to expand on a lesson in literature class. She stood up and shared that she identified with the isolation and loneliness the character was experiencing in the book they were reading. She, then, told her story. By the end, students in the class were tearing up and apologizing for making her feel that way. She further shared that she had just learned about empathy, and she was challenging herself to practice it more in her life and hoped they would consider doing the same. Lupita came to the school counselor immediately after class to tell her what happened because she was so proud of herself and so happy to see what had happened with her classmates.
As I shared in the beginning of this post, I am humbled to be a part of this work with young people who deserve to be heard and to feel proud of who they are. Afterall, isn’t that the journey to realizing our greatest individual potential. But, I also realized that Lupita’s story is an opportunity for me to reflect on my own relationships and personal journey. Where have I not challenged myself in the same way to have empathy for others…those who trigger me…who I disagree with…some who I may even be fearful of? Thank you Lupita for showing me not only what’s possible for my organization’s work but the courage and potential I have in my own life. I am humbled and in awe. It is time, and I can now see the power in what’s available to us right now. Empathy is empowerment.
Will you join myself and Lupita? We need it now more than ever.