The Time is Now!

HelpMany people say that this generation of teenagers is a lost generation. No other generation in history has been so plagued by drugs, alcohol, sex, bullying, and greed at such a young age. Everyone knows something terrible has happened in the social development of today’s youth. Crime and violence have become so common that many schools throughout the country have metal detectors installed at the entrances. The reality is our culture has become so tolerant that it is inadvertently creating a perversion of our youth and the downward spiral has become blatantly obvious.

Our entire society is experiencing an ethical collapse and this collapse has become so urgent that most leaders in education acknowledge that our foundations are being threatened. Our nations’ media and entertainment outlets seem to be more concerned about ratings than the effects their programs are having on our teenagers. You have to wonder what kind of world we are living in where many of our country’s leaders look the other way while these destructive ideals are being pushed on our youth. So many of our young people have been robbed of all moral concepts.

We all should be burdened by what we see and motivated to play a part in initiating change to inspire our youth through character development. It’s time we take responsibility and give of our time, resources, and talents to instill the time-tested results that good character traits provide. Test scores are important, but infusing personal character development into the daily academic routine for students is ultimately what will address these areas of need and create a better society for the future.

Go Out of Your Way

Two pathsLast month Kyle Lang, a senior from West Salem High School in Wisconsin, went on a jog. But not just any jog, a long jog—101 miles to be exact, the equivalent of roughly four marathons. The run was part of Kyle’s senior exit project aimed at raising awareness for those who go hungry every day in this country.

It’s shocking but 1 in every 6 people in America have to face the day without enough food. That statistic alone was enough to inspire Kyle to do something big about it. He set out on his run on June 24 and by the evening of June 25, he had completed 101 miles and raised (and is still raising) thousands of dollars that will go directly to the Hunger Task Force advocacy group and the WAFER food pantry. Kyle Lang is an inspiration to everyone but especially those who’ve been told you’re too young to make a difference.

Don’t let the words of others or your age be an excuse to not do something big. And don’t let being a student with limited means keep you from being creative and going out of your way to make life better for another person. You have everything you need inside you—heart, mind, will, and faith.

Ask yourself what stirs your heart, then go do something big about it. “Don’t ask what the world needs,” said Howard Thurman. “Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

The Power of Forgiveness

HoweWhen 16-year old Jordyn Howe discovered his stepfather’s pistol sitting on a high shelf and wrapped in a towel, he brought it to school to show it off to friends. The gun was passed around on the school bus and when it came back to Howe, he pointed it at the floor and pulled the trigger. It didn’t discharge leading him to believe the gun wasn’t loaded. A few minutes later, he jokingly pointed the gun at fellow student Lourdes “Jina” Guzman-DeJesus. This time when he pulled the trigger, the gun discharged, hitting Guzman-DeJesus in the neck and killing her.

Jordyn Howe plead guilty to manslaughter and two other chargers and was ordered by a Florida court to be sent to juvenile prison for two years. His time in prison would have begun earlier this month. But Martha Guzman-DeJesus, the mother of the victim, stepped in.

Through a series of meetings with Jordyn Howe, Mrs. Guzman-DeJesus came to the conclusion that Howe was a good kid who knew her daughter and never meant to harm her. He’d made a terrible, life-altering decision but she saw that he was truly remorseful for what he had done. With the help of her lawyers and Howe’s, she made a surprising, courageous decision.

Last week, Martha Guzman-DeJesus stood up in a Florida court and read a tear-filled statement that she’d written to Jordyn Howe and those responsible for his fate. In it she explained that she had forgiven her daughter’s killer and that she did not want him to serve time in prison. Instead, she wanted him to join her going from school to school over the next year, sharing with students, teachers, and parents about the imminent dangers of guns in the hands of children. When she finished giving her statement, she walked over to Jordyn Howe and embraced him

The court accepted the plea deal and today, Jordyn Howe is not in prison—not because of a loophole or because his parents hired expensive lawyers who played the system. Jordyn Howe is not in prison for killing a fellow student because he is the recipient of the power of one woman’s forgiveness.

We will all be hurt by others in our lifetime—some to an incredibly painful degree. The common person chooses to hold onto resentment for months, years, even a lifetime. The uncommon person chooses to forgive. Ultimately we cannot change what is done to us. But we can change how it affects us. Resentment is poison. Forgiveness is freedom. Always choose to forgive.

Be Kind

Group of high schoolersAround the world people are mourning the death of legendary actor Robin Williams. He was a giant of a man on screen and according to family and friends, an even greater man off the screen. There’s no doubt he will be missed not just by those who knew and loved him but by millions of others who enjoyed his shows and movies over the years. It is such a sad and unnecessary end to such an incredible life. And now that we’ve heard how hard and long he fought his demons of drug abuse, alcoholism, and depression, the news of his passing is that much more tragic.

There are many things Robin Williams’ death reminds us of, but one in particular sticks out to me: it’s hard to truly know what someone is going through in his or her life. Most of us are pretty good at putting a smile on while we’re in the presence of others. Robin Williams was one of the best. He was a comedian at heart. But deep down he was hurting far more than anyone realized.

As you look around your school and pass dozens of faces each day, remember that despite appearances, you probably don’t know someone’s full story. That’s why 2,500 years ago, Plato said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” They are great words to live by. And if you can own them in your life when you’re young, you will be a light in others’ lives for a long time.

Never Assume You Know

Sad girl in dark roomOne night when I was in the first grade and shared a bed in the basement with my 8-year-old sister Wendy, we were startled awake at two in the morning. My mom yanked back our covers and dragged us up the basement stairs in our pajamas. She tugged us outside in the cold and shoved us into the backseat of our rusted-out Ford Escort. We accelerated into the darkness.

When I peaked out the side window I could see beat-up cars along crumbling curbs and dilapidated houses on dirt lots littered with trash. Suddenly my mom screeched to a halt next to a busted-out street lamp and barked at us to get out of the car. She then yanked us up a decaying staircase and into a rundown, two-story Victorian house.

A smoky haze floated out as my mom opened the front door and we stepped inside. The house was quiet and dark except for the moonlight reaching through the broken windows. People were passed out on the floor with haphazard piles of half-eaten food and garbage around them. There was no furniture, no lamps or beds except for a dirty mattress in one corner. My mom pulled us down a hallway that led to the back of the house as our footsteps creaked on the floorboards.

We passed a man slumped against the wall just before reaching an old wooden door. The hinge creaked as my mom pulled the door open.

The room was cold and the air was grayed with cigarette smoke. You could just make out a door at the opposite end. We stepped inside and my mom pressed Wendy and me to the floor and motioned for us to stay put. She continued toward the other door as Wendy and I crawled into the nearest corner.

Wendy’s body trembled as she pulled me close. That’s when we noticed the longhaired man sitting guard by the other door. He allowed my mom to pass and then locked his gaze on us. His face was sharp and he wore leather boots, skintight jeans and a tie-dyed shirt. The snub nose of a silver handgun pressed against his chin.

Wendy brought her quivering lips to my ear and told me to stay still and quiet and that everything would be okay. Quietly and as still as two children could be, we spent the next hour pressed together, praying that our mom would return and take us home.

We waited. And waited. After nearly two hours, the door behind the armed man creaked and opened slowly. My mom appeared. Having had her fix of crack, she was smiling. I jumped up and ran to her side, hugging one of her legs. She led us out of the house and back into the car.

Once home, Wendy and I scurried down the basement stairs and climbed back under our covers. She rubbed my forehead and sang songs to me so I could fall asleep. I’ll never forget watching her reach over my body to set the alarm clock for school.

Two hours later, the alarm sounded. Wendy helped me get dressed in the same clothes I’d worn the day before. I did my best to tame my bed head. Our mom was passed out so we walked to the kitchen where we fixed our own cereal and packed our backpacks before heading out the front door. Then we walked to the bus stop where we stood with the other kids in the neighborhood and tried to act like everything was fine.

I was only six at the time that happened but very little changed as I grew older. I was surrounded by the horrors of addiction, neglect, and abuse my entire childhood. But I was not alone. There were other kids like me back then—some of them in worse circumstances than mine. The same is true today.

Next time you notice a schoolmate wearing the same clothes or looking rundown or acting withdrawn, don’t assume you know what they’ve been through. Like me or many others like me, they may be suffering through circumstances brought on by parents or caregivers who abuse drugs and alcohol, or them—circumstances that aren’t their fault and are outside their control.

If you want to be a leader, a difference-maker, an extraordinary person in life, you must be someone who seeks to empathize with others, and then treat them the way you would want to be treated if you were in their shoes. Compassion is the truest measure of strength.