Monday, January 25, 2010

Tony's Blog: How a white man goes into the hood

Recently, a corporate executive asked me how a white man goes into the hood. My answer was that most of the time he drives east and then south.

No, seriously he said: How do you learn to speak their language?

I try to meet them at a place that is beyond language. Connect to their hearts.
If I try to talk like them I’m being inauthentic and they pick that up and that becomes what is communicated.

If I try to talk like an adult to a child, they turn off. So, we have to discover a common language together: A language of the heart, or perhaps the soul. The language they are used to from adults is the language of judgment. “This is what is wrong with the way you are living your life. Let me tell you the right way”.

"Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing, there is a field
I'll meet you there."

The other thing they get is the eight words: “If you do this, you will get that.” Trust me, these kids know about accountability. They are hammered over the head with it every day. They just don’t see the point. What young people want is to be seen, to be valued. It is more important to the human spirit than the knowledge of reward and punishment. This is especially true during the years that they are trying to form their identity in the world. Youth in the city get messages everyday that they translate to mean, “you have no place in this world…you don’t belong here.”

So, I try to bring them a different language. One that is more imaginative, thoughtful and resourceful. One that is not based on “put downs” which is the most common language of youth today, but one that is based on connection and recognition. That is the spirit of “sawubona” (Zulu for “I see you”).

Finally, I try to see them as bearers of great gifts, not as receptacles for my wisdom. This is perhaps the key to their respect and to my humility which makes us both approachable.

This is my approach to ‘inner city youth’, but come to think of it:

Isn’t this what we should all be doing for each other?



1 comment:

Edwin said...


Thank you for being such an inspiration.