Thursday, November 17, 2011

Interrupting Our Dysfunctional Society - The Interrupters and LeadON! Among Many

How does change happen?  At this point in the history of the US, change is not coming from the official political leaders.  But change is happening all around.  People are coming together and taking charge of their own lives.  Whether it's the people at Occupy events around the country, or businesses who are converting their structures and operations to be more energy efficient, or local food groups, or even people joining the Tea Party, people everywhere, mostly off of the media's radar, are coming together and speaking openly about how they feel and how to make life better.  Not only for themselves, but for everyone else.

In Anchorage this week, a group of kids from around the state got together to talk about how to make their lives better.  Although a group I volunteer with (ANDVSA) was the sponsor, I didn't get to the Lead On conference.  But the participants made their own videotape.

Here's what Meryl of Tenakee Springs wrote about it:
For the past two years I have been lucky enough to attend the LeadON! conference, and I’ve learned an awesome amount about my peers, my community, my state, my world, and myself. Despite the impact it has had on my life, I have a real difficulty describing what LeadON! is exactly. A leadership conference? (Yawn…another one?) A mini-summit? (Summit? To what? Everest?) A youth gathering? (Are we starting a cult?). Nothing really seems to do it justice, or make any sense. I find myself always tripping on my words when I try to explain it to people.
For me, LeadON! has been this incredible opportunity to actually gain the confidence I need to make positive changes. I’ve met people and made connections that have broadened my mind and pushed my life forward. I participated in workshops during the conference that were very, very far out of my comfort zone, and found myself actually enjoying being out of my “box”. I got to listen to speakers who were so powerful their messages still stick with me. I heard my peers tell stories about the rough parts of their own life, which made me brave enough to do the same.  Yes, it’s a lot for only a few days!
The most empowering part of LeadON! was the way everyone, the speakers, the adults, and the youth, spoke openly about a wide range of topics. I believe that positive change begins within ourselves and grows outward, and talking honestly about what we want to change is the first step. LeadON! gave me the chance to do that. While I may not always have the words to describe how LeadON! has influenced me, maybe that is actually what has given me the power to show the world what leadership is, instead of simply trying to slap a definition on it. We define it in our actions, every day. That’s what LeadON! has really shown me.
-          Meryl, Tenakee Springs

This year's conference is over.  But if you are (or know) an Alaskan Youth between the ages of 13 and 18 you can look at this year's application form and think about applying for next year. 

The Alaskan Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse (ANDVSA), which sponsors LeadON!, is focused on PREVENTION.  That means working to prevent problems before they happen and opening opportunities to people who might not have otherwise known they had healthy and positive options. 

From the ANDVSA site:

What Do Youth Leaders and Community Partners Do at the Mini-summit?

  • Youth-led workshops, nationally recognized speakers, and major fun!
  • See what youth and community partners are doing across the state.
  • Use theatre, art, and media to improve their leadership skills
  • Share information and projects from your community.
  • Have fun with musicians, actors, activists, business leaders, and Alaska youth
  • Develop ideas to promote peace and equality in your community
  • Learn more about youth and adult project partnerships.
  • Hiking, outdoor activities, networking, and much more!

This week, we also saw the movie The Interrupters.  It follows a group of ex-gang members and ex-cons as they go through their dysfunctional neighborhood, interrupting violence, through the force of their personalities, experience, and fearlessness.  They too, offer people alternatives to killing, as a way to resolve differences.  Another example of people speaking openly.

This is a powerful film that takes you on an intimate trip into a dysfunctional neighborhood in Chicago, where violence is the learned behavior for dealing with violence.  Into this neighborhood a doctor joins locals who want to change things.  The doctor views this epidemiologically - as a disease that needs to be tracked down and stopped as you would any other disease.  It's not about bad people, but about people who are infected by things in their environment that cause them to behave in self-destructive ways.

And once you've been through the neighborhoods with different interrupters and seen how they gain the trust of those infected with violence and slowly offer them alternatives, after you see the humanity behind the stereoptypes we have of 'those people', it's easy to understand that ignorance that leads one legislator to call the National Guard to come pacify the neighborhood.  And if your brain is good at making connections from one situation to another, you realize the enormous foolishness of the National Guard and the US military trying to make force peace on Iraq and Afghanistan.  This is using violence to teach people peace.  The target already knows violence.  It's the interrupters, working slowly and tirelessly, with love and respect and intimate knowledge of their patients, who are using peace to teach peace.

It's people from the neighborhood interrupting dysfunction to solve their problems. 

This interrupting business is going on all over.  It's what Anchorage Healing Racism does by bringing people like Brent Scarpo to Anchorage. And what Penny Arcade does in an entirely different way with her show that's at OutNorth again Friday and Saturday night at 8pm, with an extra show added Sunday afternoon at 5pm.

Look around your community.  It's happening all around you.  You just need to pay attention, reach out, and connect to it.

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