Step Up

Others, Addictions

Contributed by: Inner City Youth Alive

By Kent Dueck

Our work in the community is a strange dance. We ask some pretty big questions of youth and we call youth up to become a better version of themselves.  I remember when we proposed to the Board of ICYA that we were going to focus on building leaders here in the North End. They questioned the wisdom of this path as a good Board should. The question was obvious…”you are working with youth who often don’t know where they are going to stay at night; do you really think it is reasonable to ask youth who are surviving to become leaders in their community?”  The question went something like that.  

There was a young man who was sort of the picture of that tension. He was functionally homeless. One night it took me driving around with him to three different homes who all told him to go away.  Finally I ended up hoisting that 13 year old through the second floor window of a house he felt would be safe for him. So, could this young man be a leader?  Should we ask him to be a leader? When would he be ready to be a leader? What level could we ask him to lead at? And of course was it even possible for him in the world we live in? 

These questions are not easy to answer. There is another reflex afoot. It offers a counter narrative that is essentially a critique to the world our youth walk in. It says to our youth that they are in an impossibly terrible world where they are hated and where racism makes it impossible to rise up.  Systemic oppression says that the whole world is out to get you.  

Jamal Jivanji is a former gang member and African Canadian who graduated with a law degree from Harvard. He posits the following…if you tell youth that there is systemic oppression you leave them with the impression that before they step towards the life they want a whole system has to be deconstructed. It’s like inviting someone for a cool swim on a hot day (hard to imagine here in Manitoba) and then placing 80 pounds of bricks in a sack around their neck. They are probably not going swimming with you.  So when you are in the trenches doing work with actual people you have to decide what you want to cling to. Do you want to cling to a narrative of systemic oppression where the whole world hates you? Or do you want to cling to the hope you have in your heart for the wellbeing of that one youth in front of you?  If you want to do the latter then it is about finding those people that do not want the worst for your youth. Of course if the former theory is true you will not find any such people. 

I am blown away by the number of good people out there involved in this quiet revolution who will go the second and third mile for our youth.  Whether its employers, teachers, volunteers, or staff we are seeing an army of people ready to go to bat for our youth. It is the loudest unheard argument out there.  We need those people because when we, in walking beside our youth, hear their voice about the kind of future they dream about, we call on those good people that are FOR Indigenous youth to offer a job or home or opportunity that provides the path to that good place. We would be foolish to listen to the dreams of our youth if we believed they were not possible due to a terrible world out there. It is our task to find those Manitobans that are for our youth and invite them to help make dreams come true. If you are reading this article, chances are you are one of those good people. 

The young man I hoisted through that second story window today has lifted himself, with the help of all the amazing people who were for him, to become a leader in a large company here in our city.  Every week I hear those stories. Valentines Day I was late in buying my wife flowers and ended up in the store on my way home from ICYA. I was caught off guard when I heard a singing voice from that back corner calling my name.  I recognized a young woman that I had known for over 20 years. I teared up as I hugged this young woman. It was so good to see her. The last time we connected I was firing her from working at ICYA. Her addiction was getting in the way of her job as a cleaner in our building.  Her story poured out to me. I am three years clean Kent! I lead a very quiet life. Just me and my cat and this job that has changed my life. She had to decide to never see her family who was deep into addiction in order to live her dreams. She assured me over and over as to how happy she was and what a good life she was having.  

What she did was a testimony to an internal fortitude and a resolve to live into the life God wanted for her.  She lifted a lot to get there. We didn’t ask her to change the whole world and address all the injustices in it (of which there are many) that day I let her go I asked her to change just one life—her own.