By Andrieka J Austin
While walking through a neighborhood recently, I noticed some graffiti writing in the middle of the street. I immediately thought to myself, “wow, do people STILL draw graffiti these days”?… Now this particular neighborhood was “nice”, “quiet”, and everyone pretty much kept to themselves. “So”, I thought to myself, “WHY would someone(s) purposely target a street in an area like this?… unless, there is more to the story here.
Upon a little further research, I discovered that this may have been left-behind traces of an unruly group. This made me wonder if this could have been some type of gang-like activity (sometimes I am a little naive to things that are outside of ‘my world’). As I continued to ponder on this, it made me realize that our teens are becoming more and more involved in troublesome behaviors and self-destructive affiliations.
My mother always said that life is FULL of C-H-O-I-C-E-S.
The current events in the news show young men (and women) spending countless years that equal MORE than the REST of their lives behind bars, because of the choices they made previously to join a gang. It saddens me to think that they will NEVER have the chance to re-consider their actions again.
On my way home, I came up with my own list of reasons why we are losing our kids to “the streets”, and violent activity. Maybe this list of reasons will reach at least one parent, Youth Leader, or even a teen who may be able to get through to a loved one, a close friend, or someone special to them and help them decide AGAINST joining a gang or making ANY potentially violent/harmful decision(s).
My list of why…
- a sense of belonging. He or she may not feel connected to his or her own family.
- this group may represent the ONLY thing they recognize as a sense of community.
- he or she may be BORED. Having nothing of interest to them to keep them busy, or to positively impact their time
- he or she may be trying to fit in, feel accepted as a part of a larger crowd.
- he or she may be HURTING, and searching for SOMEone who understands them.
- it MAY be a cry for help or attention that they may feel they are not getting at home.
- he or she may have a NEED for an authority-type figure, or someone to look up to in their life.
- he or she may want to be viewed as “cool”, or stand out to their friends.
- his or her environment may not be very positive or productive, so they may choose what is “common” and available to them. Thus, falling into a stereotypical-type scenario.
- he or she may not feel that they have inner leadership instincts, so they may choose to follow the crowd (we were taught to ALWAYS be a leader… NEVER a follower)
- he or she may not be much of an independent thinker, so they allow others (and other things) to influence their mindset and thought process.
I remembered reading an article in a Teen Voices Magazine on the realities of gang-life, and how a young 16-year old girl shared her story of how and why she joined a gang. Her story was very insiteful, and REAL. She mentioned that she was searching, trying to fill her need for someone to show her affection, and that they loved and cared for her. She wanted to be accepted, protected, and respected. She understood that many kids join gangs; believing that selling drugs, etc. would eventually fulfill their inner desire for “fancy”cars, and nice(r) clothes. She said that many feel that it is the ONLY way; not realizing the REALity of it all.
Gang violence and acceptance is a part of our society today. This issue is RARELY addressed (until someone is shot, injured, or death occurs as a result). My deepest belief is that the RIGHT decisions can be made in a teen’s life, and it all starts with the RIGHT conversation. So, let’s get talkin’.
Andrieka “AJ” Austin is Speaker, Author, and EmPOWERment Contributer for Inspirational Women Magazine’s ‘Better Yourself’, Founder and Facilitator of Journey Girl, LLC ( http://www.JourneyGirl.org ); specializing in female self-emPOWERment programming and resources for girls and women.
Find us online at http://www.facebook.com/journeygirlatlanta