Giving truth to Memphis youth
By Elle Perry (Teen Appeal Coordinator)
On the cover of the May issue of the Teen Appeal is a story about 30 Whitehaven High School seniors who have each received scholarships offers of between $1-$4 million dollars.
This stellar achievement has received scant media attention and acknowledgement from the adults in the city of Memphis.
But videos of group fights at Memphis schools and other locations have quickly spread from our city across the nation.
We say we want more positive media stories, but those stories aren’t the ones getting shared on social media. They aren’t getting the ratings, page hits and views on YouTube.
Wade through any of the comments on said videos and you will find numerous adults calling these children “savages,” “thugs” and “animals.” There are also many mentions of shooting these children or adapting by being armed to the teeth.
These children are reading your comments and it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I’m intentionally using the word “children” because that’s what they are. What we were once: Young people who made wrong choices and decisions and who didn’t do everything our parents told us to.
Because of the unfortunate persistent low civic self-esteem in Memphis, you’d think we were living in some sort of dystopian, post-apocalyptic place. Surely, no one would voluntarily live in a place like that.
Meanwhile, the so-called “teen mob” phenomena has recently emerged in Philadelphia; Brooklyn; Indianapolis; Charleston; Atlanta; Trenton, New Jersey; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Newport News, VA., among other places.
The main difference between our generation and the last is the advent of cell phones and social media. Our schoolyard scraps didn’t have the ability to go viral. And it’s easy to see why the videos are put on television. Video is cheap. Video is easy. Video is compelling.
It’s voyeuristic. We can zoom in and see every angle. We can pause it, too. And replay it over and over.
But the reporting needs context. Not days or weeks later either. How many fights occur at Memphis schools? How does one school compare to the next? What happens after the fight? What type of punishments do these students receive? Do these students receive anger management or therapeutic solutions? How does Memphis compare to similar cities?
We need more than a soundbite from an enraged parent or community member. We know that fights are a bad thing; what else does your story offer?
You wouldn’t notice this from watching the news, but youth violent crime arrests in Memphis are down this year, according to Smart City Memphis. They were down last year too.
These children are noticing who is getting the attention. It’s not the seniors at Soulsville Charter School who again had a 100 percent acceptance rate into college in a city where one fourth of students don’t even graduate from high school.
As reported in another Teen Appeal story in this issue, 8,000 youth signed up for a city youth program that doles out 1,000 summer jobs via lottery. So what happens to the other 7,000 young people who will need a job and some way to spend large swaths of their time?
I’m grateful that the Teen Appeal exists because it gives teenagers in Memphis a dedicated outlet to share their views on issues such as these. And technology is helping with that, as well. The column from a Central High School student was first run on a Bridge Builders CHANGE blog.
Problems like poverty, crime and need for youth activities won’t get solved through well-intentioned handwringing or social media posturing.
If you are troubled by what you saw on television, your response should not be “not my school,” “not my kids,” or “not my part of town.” The future of the youth in Memphis affects the future of our city and all who call it home.
As an adult in Memphis, if you are truly concerned about what goes on in the lives of these Memphis youth, I offer you three actions to take:
1.)Become a mentor. The Memphis Grizzlies Foundation’s TEAM UP Mentoring initiative offers team and individual youth mentoring for adults to give up one hour of their week during their school year through lots of organizations, such as The Boys & Girls Club, Girls Inc. and Memphis Athletic Ministries.
2.)Offer a young person a chance to earn money and skills (for the workplace and for life) with an internship or job opportunity at your place of employment.
3.)Donate your money or time to a youth-serving organization in the city. There are over 3,000 nonprofits in the metro area and a large number of them serve youth. You can start from the beginning with Books from Birth or the Urban Child Institute, all the way up to adolescence with programs like Knowledge Quest, Shelby Debate Society, or Memphis Inner City Rugby.
We as a city and community have to offer our time and talents to help the next generation get to the next step. For their sake and for our sake.
During the Whitehaven assembly, their principal, Dr. Vincent Hunter, mentioned that we as a city have to convince our youth to stay here in Memphis.
Our big push for youth talent retention needs to start within the city, not outside of it.
We’re not doing a good job so far.