I’ve never been shot at. I’ve never been walking down the street or playing in a park and suddenly heard gunshots ring out all around me. But these boys, they have.
The boy sitting next to me has his hand bandaged because while he was playing basketball at a playground, bullets suddenly began whizzing by him. He ran to escape the line of fire and jumped the fence, cutting his hand as he frantically scurried over it. You’d think this is a scene from a movie, but it’s this kid’s reality. Yet, here he was sitting in the circle next to me.
I was thinking about how paralyzing my fear would be in that scenario. AS IF, I could even imagine that – not even close. I CANNOT even pretend to imagine or know what this kid lives through every single day because I live in a very different and privileged world. This boy and the ten others sitting in the circle live in the parts of the city that most don’t even drive through and have never seen. They decided to join a group that is dedicated to youth violence prevention.
As I sat thinking about that, the facilitator asked people to stand up and say their name and who they are. Almost everyone struggled. Fair enough. I think many of us struggle with that question, at least from time to time. It got quiet and she said, “Okay then, who do you want to be?” The room fell silent. The boy next to me said, “For real, I want to be someone else… but I just can’t do it where I live.” Listen. This is real. This is not an excuse or just a whining kid. It was a kid who had recently fled gunshots. A kid who just expressed that he doesn’t want to be trapped in the life he’s currently living, but doesn’t know how to get out and is in survival mode day after day.
How BRAVE of him to say that. How BRAVE of him to allow himself to speak his truth in front of the other guys. How BRAVE of him to speak up in a workshop in the woods, completely out of his element and agree to try to open up in front of strangers – and we haven’t even gotten to the high ropes course yet. And, when we did get to the high ropes course, everyone was scared, yet he was one of only two to complete the whole course. What’s more, he did it with one hand since the other one hurt too much. How BRAVE of him.
Watching and encouraging the guys was fun and exciting, but I was internally struggling with my own fears. I HATE open heights. I mean, I really, really HATE open heights. I don’t like skiing because you have to be on a chair lift. I don’t do ladders. I don’t even like crossing pedestrian bridges over roads. You get the idea. So, in my mind when we scheduled the event, I’d decided I would stay on the ground, concentrate on supporting the boys and take pictures.
But, when I got there, it felt like I should put on the gear like everyone else. So, I did. Once in harnesses, we walked over to the ropes course that had been hidden amongst the trees. After looking at what we were going to do 30 feet above the ground, two kids decided to sit out. One 14 year old kid, Tony, even took off his harness. I realized I had to tell them my own fears and at least set a goal for myself. I told Tony that I was terrified and didn’t want to do it at all, but that I would at least climb the ladder and stand on the platform in order to challenge myself and attempt to overcome fear.
From the ground we watched kid after kid smiling, yelling and overcoming fear up in the rope obstacle course. As our time at the ropes came to an end, Tony yelled to me from his tree stump seat, “You going up there?” I knew I had to go. So, I looked at him and began to climb the scariest ladder ever (at least to me.) When I finally made it to the top, I was white knuckled, sweating and could not let go of my harness rope. I looked down to see him smiling and pointing with excitement, “You did it??! YOU are up there??” He was laughing, pointing and basically freaking out that I had done it. As I stood up there gripping my harness lead and trying to focus on the other kids doing the elements, Tony disappeared.
While I was attempting to force myself to let go with one hand so I could take pictures from the top I heard shouting from the bottom. “Another kid is coming up the ladder — help him out!” I look over and who is it? Yep, Tony. There he was back in his harness and climbing the ladder! We stood at the top together, very pleased with ourselves. My jaw and teeth sending sharp pains through my head from clenching and my feet and ankles aching from my tension. But, we stood smiling together. We had done it. We were brave.
Bravery… what makes us brave? Doing something that we are scared to do. Facing something we just can’t face. Opening our mind and our hearts to face something that hurts. Trying again and again to be the person we want to be even amidst the daily challenges, hardships and adversity in our face. Bravery. These young men are BRAVE. The empowerment workshop and high ropes course cultivated the BRAVERY that was already inside these great kids. The high ropes course gave them a chance to be brave in a positive way. It allowed them to make a decision that gave them a wave of bravery and accomplishment. Perhaps this feeling will lead to another brave choice, which will lead to another. Making these positive and brave decisions is a crucial tool for the boys to take back to the challenges they face in their neighborhoods and see a brighter future for themselves.
We have more stories of bravery, hope and overcoming hardships. Please Like and follow Footpath Foundation on Facebook or check out our website to learn more about us and follow our adventures. www.footpathfoundation.org