The notion of history and herstory has arisen again, and with it a thought I had while reading Wendt's Black Rainbow. The idea that a person, at the present is a result of the life they had lead up to that point in time. In Wendt's eyes, the erasure of that 'journey' was an erasure of identity and in that society was a cleansing or a new beginning. Figel, in 'They Who Do Not Grieve' brings up the notion again in her dream as she feels that the man's voice is erasing her 'herstory'.
I work with a group of juvenile delinquents in the Choice program. As a college night counselor, my responsibility is primarily to help with controlling the group, and most importantly other than that is to become as close to the 'clients' as I can. the whole situation is quite rigid, and given the tenderness of the situation and the 'tendencies' of the kids there is a very limiting structure and my resources as far as communication are bound.
As I have gotten closer tot he kids over the last two semesters, only one of which has had to return this year, I get a chance to understand what lives they have lead to lead up to this point, and there is no cut and dry formula. One of the ways I can really help these kids is to understand their history, this is their identity. What they have in common, is that those steps have landed them in a juvenile detention facility and that much I can know from the get-go. This past week, I had a returning client fromthe week before. His name was Rob, and aside from the young man Will who came from last year and his two new friends Rob was the only returning member of the program. He is te only white kid there, he is seventeen, he is six foot three, and probably weighs about two hundred and fifty pounds.
Once someone can understand how important history is to creating who an individual is, they should understand the detriment, the harmfulness and the ignorance of judgment. Of course, as I said these kids all have a commonality in their breaking the law, but Rob has an outstanding history, he isn't Rob the thief, Rob the slinger, Rob the gang member, Rob the fighter, he is rob. we might as well number the kids if there is no history, we could classify them under their offenses and give them a colored sticker, not only is their history vital to understanding who they are but it is so profoundly important to understanding where the kids can go. Rob is from Mississippi, he came to Baltimore to live with some family after his brother moved up here to play football in college with a prayer to get drafted by the NFL. He needed some money, and got mixed up in some things that landed him in cuffs.
What is so important about History to these kids, is that only one, single moment in the span of their eight, to nineteen years of life where they got caught doing something illegal has landed them here. Some of the rest of their histories are normal, lower middle class families with a good head on their shoulders, got caught for being in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong group of people. What kind of a service could I provide a youth if all I see is that one instant? Some of them, however have histories of violence, histories of assault, of drugs, and some a bit worse but that is not all of their history, and that does not have to be their future.
Rob has a good head on his shoulders. He has friends trying to get him into one of he plumber's unions in Baltimore, and he is thinking about an apprenticeship this upcoming spring if he terminates the program soon enough and on good terms. I have a history too. All the things I've done, all the peopl I've known, I've helped, I've hurt those things are all a part of who I am. I'm not perfect, it isn't a right for me to be in college, to have a good family, to have a good life those are blessings and yes, they are part of my history but what is more is the choices I make. History can't be about the things you have, the things you see, the peouple you meet it isn't enough. It is about the choices you make, the connections you make, the things you do. The things I do. History isn't ever done, every new second be comes a part of it. I think the idea of service, of my being able to give time and energy especially in the case of my 'clients' is to teach them how to make their history push them where they need to be. If history is going to be behind you your whole life, let it push you not hold you back.
I think what I can understand from Choice, from Wendt, and from Figiel is that what is important about history, is not exactly the history itself but what it makes a person. I have dome some things I am not proud of, I never got caught. I learned from them, these kids are learning from them. The history is what you make it, the history is what you let it make you and you are a product of that journey. Someone like Rob, in the position he is; maybe a bit more down on his luck then he would like to be right now know better than most how important it is to have a history, and to change the history you'll have in five or ten years, the moment something is over it is history, it is a step too.