Today, I cried for the first time while facilitating. It came from holding in the fear, sadness and disappointment of the events of this week. It came from watching the images of Neo-Nazi’s and white supremacists march in the streets. Reading articles and editorials about where we are as a country.
I cried because it felt safe to cry. Among 25 strangers. 25 professionals that work all over North Carolina to promote adolescent health, sexual health among teens, teen parenting support and teen pregnancy prevention. I had never met any of them prior to today.
I facilitated a break-out session on Creating Buy-In and Addressing Resistance for your Adolescent Health Initiative. This is a workshop I’ve facilitated before that allows participants to talk about how they’ve created support, trust and buy-in among their community members, faith-based organizations and schools to support parenting teens, and teens that choose abstinence and teens that are sexually active. We discussed the continuum of passive resisters and sabotagers and why people resist sex education and prevention programs. As they participated in carousel and gallery walk activities, I feel safe among these people that are so passionate about youth in urban and rural communities across the state. I see all shades of skin in the ethnically diverse room, not knowing the invisible differences in each other that don’t show visibly, but aware they are there. Those differences are valuable and make our lives rich. But, we do have one thing in common- we want youth to thrive, be healthy, access information, product & services to advocate for their own health.
I don’t mention politics often during my facilitation events and keynote addresses. I know there are a variety of beliefs in audiences and I respect people’s values and life journeys. But, today, I was asked a question. One simple question. It came at the end when a woman raised her hand and said, “This isn’t about the content today, but I’m intrigued to ask you what you love most about your work.” I’m never asked questions like this in these settings. I wasn’t prepared how to answer. It honestly threw me off guard.
But, after a deep breathe, from my heart, I said, “The opportunity to work with communities all over the United States.” And, in that moment, I knew they heard my voice quiver. The events of this past week came up from my stomach into my tearful eyes and wavering voice. I could have stopped there, but I didn’t. I shared that 4 years ago I successfully completed a bike ride across the US solo and in that experience, I never once experienced a negative interaction with a human being. For 90 days. Across cornfields, and mountain ranges. Through incredibly rural communities and small cities. And, as I shared this, tears fell down my face. I didn’t apologize, but rather, said, “In light of this week’s events, I feel the need to share with all of you that my experience is that most Americans are good. Most Americans are genuine and care about each other- no matter who you are. And, that is why I do this work. I do this because of communities like yours, people like you who are passionate and willing to dedicate their professional lives to youth.” And with that, we ended. I saw heads nodding, and smiles and tears in that audience. I had many more people than usual come up to me after and give me hugs.
This is what life is about. Faith in others. Trust and vulnerability. Connection. That’s why I do what I do.
Thanks for being real and vulnerable, Jess.