I like to use social media to share reflections about the activities we do and our culture, which appear awkward because, as this group has pointed out, they are long narratives on platforms that like soundbites. But people still seem to like them. I really like that Discourse actually seems designed for that. Sharing this recent reflection here, for anyone with a few minutes to kill.
“What Makes Friends Come Back?”
When you become the teacher of a children’s class, the tutor of a study circle, the host of a devotional, the animator of a junior youth group, a space where friends return to every week, do you ever wonder; what makes those friends come back?
Our junior youth group, the Young Artist Thinkers. Only one of our girls came at the beginning, the one who’s started helping with the children’s class. I’ll call her the Children’s Class Teacher.
Me: “How’s the children’s class going?”
Children’s Class Teacher: “I showed them how to play Scribbl (an online drawing guessing game), and now they always ask if we can do that instead of the lesson. I say, ‘Uh, let’s do the lesson first and then play,’ ha ha. They’re also obsessed with drawing Among Us. They’re really good at drawing.” Oh yeah, she’s also a super-artist (kind of want to name her the Artist too.) Every other session, you can count on her asking if she can show the group one of the ten or so things she’d drawn that week. The reason the kids are obsessed with drawing Among Us; because she’s obsessed with drawing Among Us, and she passed it onto them with her infectious enthusiasm.
Me, with a smile: “I hear they love you over there for your drawings. I’m so glad you’re getting to use your art.” I think that’s one thing that makes people come back; a space where they can unleash and feel resourced for the creative energy they’re filled to the brim with.
The Children’s Class Teacher, my co-animator and I decided to play Among Us while we waited for others. Another of our girls, whom I’ll call the Over-Achiever because she does everything a level above what’s actually expected just for the sake of excellence, texted beforehand that she’d miss the session because she was doing community service. But she popped in anyway, masked up with a community center kitchen in the background, because she said she at least wanted to say hi.
Over-Achiever: “I’m volunteering with my mom at a place called Our Shelter, making meals for people who otherwise wouldn’t have meals. There’s a line outside, so we’re here passing them out when they come to the window. Oh, sorry team, gotta go.” And her? What makes her come back, even if only for a few minutes while away from home to say hi?
By that time, three more of our girls had joined; the Encourager (because she thrives on environments of positive affirmation and is generous giving it too; I’m sure that kind of positive environment in this group is part of why she comes back,) the Igniter (the girl you can count on to share or ask to talk about something that will start a conversation,) and the Quiet One (doesn’t like to speak in the group or answer questions, but for some reason she still comes back too.)
Me: “How was dance?”
Encourager, who always arrives 30 min after the start time because of dance practice: “It was good. I got tired because they asked us to do a lot of jumping. We just finished, so I’m all sweaty, ha ha.”
Igniter: “I’m sorry, I may have to leave early because I have a lot of homework. I should’ve worked on it today, but I have a bad habit of watching movies instead.” See? What makes the Encourager come back, even right after another class when she’s already tired? And the Igniter, when she’s procrastinated and has homework stressing her out?
With a full group, we ended the game and started the book.
Encourager: “I missed a few chapters. Would someone mind summarizing the story for me?”
Me: “The characters are youth trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives. One wants to be a nurse, the other wants to be a teacher. They talk about confirmation, which means that when you make an effort for something important to you, God assists you. Basically, believe that you can conquer obstacles.”
Encourager, to animators’ clapping: “I just remember one time we were challenging ourselves to learn a quote: ‘Ye were created to show love one to another.’” She smiled herself as she recited it successfully. We all know that’s a core thing that makes our friends come back; the Writings. A lot of us used to avoid or be lenient with encouraging people to do the memorization, because we didn’t want our spaces to feel like school. Now we’re learning that if you challenge your friends out of your own love for the challenge, they learn to love the challenge too. Then they end up loving the Words. It feeds a part of them they didn’t notice was hungry, makes them strong in places they didn’t know they wanted strength.
Today was the chapter where one of the character’s dad is fired a few years before his retirement so the company won’t have to pay his pension. The one that introduces injustice into the conversation about confirmation. Knowing our deep-thinking girls, my co-animator and I already knew this session would be a good one.
Me: “How would you describe this word, injustice?”
Encourager: “For me, it’s to be unfair to someone based on something, like how they’re dressed, what grade they got, what race they are. It’s being deprived of something that you shouldn’t be because of some part of yourself.”
Me: “Do you believe that you can still conquer obstacles in a world that has injustice? Can you say more about why you’re nodding yes?”
Encourager: “My favorite example is Thurgood Marshall. He faced a lot of obstacles trying to become a lawyer, but he still conquered them and became the first African American on the Supreme Court, and then he made the law better for others.”
Igniter: “I’m motivated by Andrew Carnegie, who grew up poor, but then he became a wealthy business man and used his wealth to help others. His motto was that he spent half his life making money, and half his life giving money away. But I don’t want to hold him up as a shining example, because he did some not so great things, like not paying his workers well. But he still built libraries too, and his motto is good.”
Me: “Hearing you girls speak gives me hope. I also appreciate the Igniter’s consideration of nuance. Not everyone that we hold up in history was all good; people who did good things did bad things too, and it takes maturity to accept it.” See why we knew today would be good?
Breezes always has a game where you make sentences out of words in a word bank.
Co-Animator: “Last time I made a challenge out of this, to use all the words in one sentence or paragraph. Would you like to try that challenge again, or would you like to just make a sentence out of one or two?”
Encourager, who was hesitant about the challenge last time: “I kind of want to do the challenge. I actually thought it was fun.” You can imagine the ear to ear smile I had by that point.
Last time, they all started by saying something like, “Mine is dumb and weird and not good, so don’t judge me,” then proceeded to read something that should’ve been poetry, or the lines of song you’d march to. My co-animator and I told them how shook we were by it. This time, I was ready to type out what they wrote to save it. And they didn’t disappoint:
Igniter: “To be united is to reason with one another. People say all good things happen to those who wait, but why not be impatient? Why wait to make change? Why not make an effort? Why not surprise those same people? Waiting is boring. In my opinion, waiting is also irresponsible.”
Encourager: “You may be expected to be patient, but you are impatient. No man is perfect, but we should all be united, honest, and responsible. There is a reason we should all be united, so we can be surprised and laugh in unison. Make an effort for the change no one expects.”
This must be a reason they come back too; to be challenged to things they don’t think they’ll be good at, only to learn that they’re beautiful at it. Sessions that end with each of them realizing they had powers of expression they didn’t know they had. Well, some of them come for the challenge.
Co-Animator to Quiet One: “Do you have one you’d like to share?”
Quiet One: “No.” No guilt in her voice, nor any needed, because we take that as a good answer too.
We spent the rest of the time talking about our running service projects, to research contemporary Black influencers for us to learn about, and also Black-owned businesses and how we can support; as well as sharing times when we faced obstacles but overcame them.
Encourager in the chat, while the Igniter told us about her struggle to focus in the virtual school environment: “Yeah I know its really hard to adjust. It takes a wise/great person to admit to their faults and recognize where they can improve- I think that is two quotes mixed in one lol. It is hard for me too, it’s cool that you can force yourself to recognize what u need to do.” See why I give her that name?
Igniter: “I really appreciate the Encourager’s supportive comment. Also, this might be off topic, but I’m wondering if we can also do a service project about the Uyghur Muslims? I’ve heard that their deaths are already past the Holocaust. I get a lot of info about it from Tik Tok, which I’m proud about because it’s a great way for young people like us to share information. Actually, can I send you something about the Uyghurs, and we could maybe do a full lesson about it with the whole time?” That’s why she’s the Igniter. She was supposed to leave early too, but it was her contributions that took us overtime. But we not only come back; we stay.
Me: “Bring it on. We’ll definitely spend a full session on it. Talking with you girls always makes me proud. Remember, next week is our Animator Week, where we won’t have this group, and me and Co-Animator will be using the time to home-visit parents. You can use that time to think of ideas for our service projects, and please share if you think of anything. Thank you for being you.”
Maybe this is also one of those many reasons they come back, because we created a space together that celebrates them for being all that they are; an Artist, an Over-Achiever, an Encourager, an Igniter, yes, even a Quiet One. And me, I’m an Animator. We don’t treat them as empty receptacles and us as rich in knowledge, and the group a class for us to fill them with our knowledge. We treat them as the rich ones, mines already full of treasure, and us as the miners who come empty of expectations for what we want to discover and reveal what is already there; even to the mine itself who didn’t know the treasure inside it.
That’s what we’ll be doing next week during our home-visits too; telling our parents all that their youth are, so that the home too can become more of a place to be all of those things. Places you’d want to come back to.
“Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures and enable mankind to benefit therefrom.” -Bahá’í Faith
“Kids go where there is excitement. They stay where there is love.” -Zig Ziglar