By George Hinds, Director of Youth Employment at the Office of Workforce Development, City of Cambridge
As youth workers, I think we live our lives with an inherent optimism. We walk into our jobs every day believing that the young people we work with are going to change the world, and that we can give them the tools and resources they’re going to need to do so. Now, we’re practical, too…we know some of our youth will need more assistance or resources to reach the same heights as their peers. We know that structures and systems in the world around us will sometimes do more to slow our youth down than to raise them up. And so our optimism is tested. And sometimes, it is pushed to the brink…tragedy strikes, seemingly intractable problems rear their heads, and we have those moments where we think nothing can change.
Following the shooting in Parkland, Florida last week, if you’re anything like me, you experienced one of those “optimism is tested” moments. We found ourselves again in that same place. Facing the same conversations. The same problems and the same sadness. But also, if you’re anything like me, you then saw student survivors step up to the challenge they faced in ways no one could reasonably expect following the incredible trauma they had faced. They had voice. They had purpose. They had conviction. And hopefully, like me, that reaffirmed your optimism again.
As I think about working with youth during the dark days following tragedy, two key things seemed most important to me: empathy and agency. Optimism thrives when people show compassion and understanding, and when people believe in their own power to bring forth change in their lives.
If you want to spend more time helping your young people understand and practice empathy, check out these online resources:
George Hinds has overseen the Office of Workforce Development's youth programs for more than 10 years, and has more than 20 years experience working with Cambridge young people. He is also an alum of various Cambridge out of school-time programs, including the community schools, the youth centers and the Mayor’s Program.