There are conversations happening all over America. They are complex, and in many cases deeply raw and emotional. Families feel divided. Friends feel alienated. For some, there is joy and a sense of relief that much-needed changes in government will be taking place. For others, there is fear about what America will look like in the near future.
A second issue is analyzing the role social media played in the election. That conversation is just beginning. No surprise, there were plenty of unreputable sources pumping out false or biased information that was then carried on channels everyone considered “reputable.”
Young kids have difficulty understanding the difference between fact and fiction. During this election cycle inflammatory comments, harsh criticisms, and cyber-bullying grew. Our students spend a lot of time on social media channels. By some estimates, kids check into their favorite sites over 10 times a day. We may never know the impact these toxic conversations, and false news reports may have on this young audience.
At Exodus, we serve a Latino community, children from Dominican-American immigrant families. During the campaign, our students seemed to consider Donald Trump a cartoon character. He said crazy things, and he was funny. Now they are not so sure. They arrived the day after the election burning with questions and full of nervous energy about what his election to the highest office in America might mean.
When there is change in the air, kids crave reassurance that their needs will be met. They want to know the places they feel safe and loved will still be there, with caring adults around for guidance. So, the tutors gathered before the kids arrived, and discussed what the overall tone, and message, should be.
They decided to hold a Caring Circle for everyone during assembly time. Pedro took the mic and reminded everyone that Exodus was full of people and friends that they could trust. He told them several times, that the tutors and mentors were there to love and protect them, and that they could go to them with any problem or concern.
He then gave the mic over to student after student. They shared stories of feeling bullied, lied to, or how they felt about being a victim of injustice, like at the playground for example. It was astounding, the outpouring of feelings and support that we heard that day. And, lots of questions. The topic most on their minds, of course, was whether they would see family members and loved ones be sent away. Are we unwanted in America? That seemed to be the question of the day.
When there are big changes taking place, kids have a foundational craving for reassurance that their needs will continue to be met by the adults they love and trust.
Later that day, five girls made their way into my office. They were upbeat, exploding with the kind of energy that only kids freed from the restriction of sitting at desks all day can produce. One was sucking on a Candy ring and dancing in place. Another sat down in a chair as her best friend came up behind her and began braiding her long black hair.
“What do you think about the election?,” they asked.
I threw it back,“What do you think of the election?”
That started a flurry of comments, all of them talking at once.
“He said he was going to build a wall to Mexico,”said one.
“I know, right,” said another, “he can’t do that, can he?
Another one asked, “Can he make people leave? Like people in my family?”
I posed a different question.
“Do you think a president can make a decision alone, or does he have to ask other people?”
A pause. She answered,
“No, I don’t think so, I think other people can tell him if he’s wrong.”
This unleashed another round of questions and debate. We talked about whether or not there would be people helping Trump make decisions and who those people are. They asked how long he would have the job for (several were shocked that it was four years-“I thought it was two!”), and what happens if the people of the country don’t like the job he is doing.
Then, one of the girls came up with an idea. “We should pray for them,” she said.
“For who?,” another one asked.
“Those people, the ones that will be helping make the decisions.”
All agreed it was a good idea, and they took turns. They thanked God for their family, their friends. They prayed for the country, for the “people who will be in charge,”and that a “wall would not get built.” And of course, for good measure, and since they are ten, they prayed for a sick cat, an upcoming test, and a few other issues far more important than politics.
Their innocence, their sincerity, their joy led me, for the first time that day, to cry. To be honest I am one of those that is concerned for the future of our students under this new administration. I tried to hide it of course. But one of them noticed and immediately offered to give me a Bachata dance lesson, which of course, I gratefully accepted. We danced.
Who is teaching who? I am beginning to wonder.