Smash Street is the Place. Show Me Your Life is the Program.
Show Me Your Life is an art program basically designed around photography and video that provides boys at-risk who range in age from 7 to 20 with safe places in which to make the kind of art that features problem solving (as in learning photography step by step) and disclosure. At 18, they move to transitional housing, but they are still a part of the program that functions with mentoring the younger boys. In fact, we still have young men from the original group (2005) who are now thirty-years-old who return to assist with projects that involve such supervision as traveling with younger boys.
Show Me Your Life contains projects that are germane to not simply sexual exploitation, that is a given, but such projects also appropriately address two questions.
1.) How did we survive.
2.) How will we survive now.
This, too, can mean HIV.
The mentor is a guide. All mentors are trained in reciprocal, reflective, nonjudgmental communication skills.
What I hear you saying is…
It sounds as if you were really scared…
So you were feeling like you had no other option but to run away…
You seem to be expressing your feelings about being humiliated…
Both groups participate in the dialogue: what is a safe place.
The younger boys will articulate what they need. The older boys will design and implement the safest place that is possible to construct.
The division between older boys and younger boys is the level of support each group needs.
Younger boys are usually dealing with pretty much black and white issues where they’re angry.
Older boys are more sophisticated, and can typically be dealing with what they think their role was in the exploitation as so many of them believe it was their fault.
Both groups facilitate interactions among themselves where the younger boys are observing the behaviors of the older boys — IS THIS WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO ME — while the older boys are looking at other versions of their younger selves. They are also looking outward.
Thusly, there are divisions in groups, but both groups are heavily invested with how can we tell the story of ourselves.
Their videos vary.
I just posted a stop animation video boys made featuring the issue of bullying. The older boys would respond to the art the younger boys were making with: it seems you are making a lot of monsters.
Which they were.
This was essentially a Show Me Your Life project placed on Smash Street Boys in our Tumblr network. Often, another child in another country will participate via the Internet when they see what we are doing and why. Tumblr has unique, encrypted message software.
It begins to dawn on a sexually abused boy at around 16, that the issues he has regarding having been raped (with foreign students this often revolves around soldiers) that the issues are not going to disappear. Ever. At the same time they are beginning to comprehend this, as it’s setting in, they are also beginning to understand that they, themselves, can play a big part in the development of the kind of safe place they need, and they begin to articulate what kind of safe places they would design and build.
The younger boys almost never see themselves as capable of a focus that can function much beyond any immediate moment, because at any moment, they remain on guard from being raped by anyone who comes near them. They do not play with peers. They are solitary and cautious. They are angry with, and do not trust adults.
If they have something to say about issues like rape and HIV, they are more apt to explode when they are with an older boy. Thusly, it’s important to keep the two groups talking to one another. The older boy now has the option of saying: how do we put that into a video.
The older boys understand that their role is to guide with: what can we make that says all these things, and what can we do about making it very clear — TO ADULTS — that the idea of the safe place does not end here.
Even if it looks like the younger boys are not constructing safe places, themselves, actually, they are. Younger boys are making fortresses out of their rooms. Older boys are looking at the community.
Each group needs the other group. It’s not just mentoring. It’s modeling as well.
In skateboarding, their passion, both groups of boys have a common terminology.
They do not say: team.
They say: crew.
Just because you can talk the talk, does not mean you can walk the walk. Younger boys know this. They look to how the older boys behave, not just what they can and do say. I am not sure you can do this without the two groups. You can. But it’s warehousing. Essentially both groups do not have fathers, and little if any parenting.
The older boys will immediately jump in with HIV information, and they hit the Internet hard with this. They personally make sure younger boys are not slacking off on meds. They count the meds.
They help interpret medical diagnosis.
They help explain to the medical community that as survivors of sexual exploitation, one of the big issues is medical invasiveness. Rape is a game changer. Public Health becomes the enemy not a partnership. They see themselves as advocates, and not just victims.
Older boys will report medical insensitivity in the treatment younger boys receive and do not tolerate.
You can do discrimination games; segregate, we don’t deal with girls because their needs are different, their issues are different, they need different role models, but at some point one group is going to brush up against the other. In our model, the group of older boys can perform the mentoring of how survivors not only make their own safe places, and what is the relationship of the community to the survivor.
For many kids who have serious communication problems, can find versions of themselves in the production of a video or photography project where experiences become shared, absorbed, producing empathy. Or not. It is the older boys who challenge the younger one with the obviousness of safety all around each person on the CREW. CREWS are organic things, and boys gravitate toward them. It’s called I have your back.
Boys will immediately form a hierarchy of the pack. A pecking order. The superficiality of that becomes quite exposed as the model of reciprocity in age groups becomes adopted because traditional gender roles have already become quite fluid especially for kids doing survival sex. The older boy you are now friends with has survived, rape is usually just the beginning of it, addiction issues ubiquitous, and he’s telling you that if he can do it, you can do it.
Segregation in terms of age in not inclusive. It is exclusive.
The stereotype of who the survivor is does not often include boys, but their numbers are not insignificant. Show Me Your Life is a voice where design and implementation involves different ages and overlap, especially with older boys who are looking back, but as young men, are looking forward as well. We cannot expect this from young boys whose brain development is on fragile ground. The older boy knows how it works. He is not immune from beginning to care about another person. Usually, for the first time.
Older boys are vigorous in their challenges to the younger boys to keep up. They extend themselves because they feel it is safe to do so.
Young men in their twenties begin to understand their gravitas. They can make an immediate difference, and they do.
It’s push, pull. The older boys are giving, the younger boys are just now learning about what giving means. No one gives when they’re not safe. It’s not endemic to the species. Sexually exploited boys will have many issues as they continue to survive. The continuing dialogue as to what is safe is one that can transcend gender, age, resources. The transition between victims to survivors is one that can be greatly facilitated when an age overlap is encouraged and nurtured because both CREWS of boys live in the same community.
HIV is a total game changer. If an abused kid is connected to an older boy who also has HIV, everything moves from just witnessing to active involvement. The younger boy can look at the older boy in such a way as to remind him that he, too, can survive.
When both groups, younger boys and older boys, are working together, the relationship has the ability to validate both of them. The older boy is validated because he, too, understands on a unique level, that he has played a direct role in alleviating pain and agony in a younger child. Thusly, he’s validated. The younger boy also validated especially with the other younger boys who can and do observe a positive relationship, and they want some of that for themselves. It’s win, win. It’s about making the age groupings overlap in such a way that there’s reciprocity involved for everyone. In fact, older boys who have left want to remain connected. They’re all around living in the community. Everyone involved finds strength through what they have to give. Otherwise, adolescent victims and their younger cohorts are left (from what I see especially in group homes and in the subsequent funding) to twist in the wind alone, afraid, and bitter.
POETRY (CREATED BY YOUNG MALE SURVIVORS, READ BY ADULT MALE SURVIVORS)
Déjà Vu GLOBAL INITIATIVE