MANCHESTER, NH – It is difficult for adults to sit on their hands and listen. They are the ones with answers, after all. They have been there, done that, and bear the scars to prove it. They are problem solvers, and often their response to hearing a young person’s troubles is to jump in and try to fix or explain things.
Avoiding that tendency was Yasamin Safarzadeh’s mission on Thursday afternoon. Safarzadeh is the youth and underserved populations specialist at the Manchester YWCA, and working with local youths involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, she put on a program called Youth Voices Matter. It was a listening session, likely the first of many, where local BIPOC youth (black, indigenous, and people of color) could have a meal together and speak and be heard without being interrupted. Adults in attendance, say those over 25, were given a red card to wear as a reminder to stay silent and listen. The youths had green cards, and, boy, did they use them.
The unintended focus on Thursday’s event was public education, and the speakers shared stories of racism both personal and institutional that they had experienced in city schools. The stories ranged from teachers who discouraged black students from taking Advanced Placement classes to a lunchroom interaction with a boy who teased a girl for enjoying the Thai meals her mother packed for lunch to another girl who was harassed for using chopsticks. The last girl told the school principal about the harassment, and the principal made the boy apologize, but she wondered what the boy really learned from the experience. Would he be more culturally sensitive in the future or would he merely hold a grudge against the Asian girl who got him in trouble?
Safarzadeh closed the event with two lists: one for a youth leadership she is forming at the YWCA, the other for youth (and adults) interested in continuing the conversation.
WATCH and LISTEN below: ⇒ Youth Voices Matter – Manchester youth talk about their experiences growing up in the city. Video by Rob Greene.