Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Your Silence is Complicit

How many times have you been on the train, train platform, bus or bus stop and been disgusted by the language or conversation of teenagers? Now, there are also times where adults piss me off with their outrageous phone conversations, verbally abuse, and obnoxious smartphone deejay selections. But when groups of teens are going in in public spaces, it makes me feel sick.

I always look first to see who else is around. Never fails – a few small children, an older man or woman, a corporate-type, and blue-collar worker. The latter two will often move away to avoid inadvertently going off on someone’s child.

Nyree begins sucking her teeth when we hear or see this behavior and myself and/or her mother (Jamilah) are around. She knows we are about to put on invisible capes and do our due diligence to save the youth from being judged as unschooled, lacking home training, lost, an example of a hopeless future, or outright ignorant.

Recently on the Clinton/Washington Euclid bound C train I expertly tied my invisible kente cape and swiftly moved to action. Two pairs of teens were competing for the Worst Language Used in Public Talking About Some Ridiculousness Award. The pair of girls were winning. I stepped to the young men first.

“Fellas,” I started. “I apologize for interrupting, but do you see those two little girls just getting out of school?” I pointed to the uniformed girls on the bench, sitting next to the elder woman and they look over my shoulder. “Can you please, for their sake, refrain from using such abrasive language? I’m not saying you can’t ever curse. I’m just asking that you hold off until you are out of earshot of others so they don’t get the wrong idea about you. That cool?” One nods, and looks away quickly, wanting to have me disappear. The other looked shocked, then embarrassed. I imagined he had very loving and involved parents at home.

Then I walked to the girls.

“Excuse me for a minute ladies.” Then I looked at the young lady doing all of the cursing, “You are gorgeous.” She was! “But the words coming out of your mouth are mmm mmm mmm,” I shook my head and closed my eyes for emphasis. “Do you see those two little girls? Can you please provide a better example for them? You know they look up to beautiful older girls like you two, right? And you never know who is around you. I could be ready to give one of you a contract or an opportunity or something, but after hearing your conversation would refrain from stepping to you.” The young lady who wasn’t cursing asks, “You know any lawyers?”

I ended up giving her my card and promising that if she e-mailed me and reminded me of the request to connect her to an attorney, I’d make good on that. (In hindsight, and as a lesson to folks working with teens and adults, I should have taken her number, e-mail and Facebook info – most people suck at follow through.)

A Public Service Announcement: If you see something, say something. Assume that anyone wildin’ out in public spaces is an amazing person with talents, passions, dreams, and a deep desire to be loved and to belong. If you get up the courage to call them out on the behavior (littering, playing music loud, etc) or language, do it with respect.