Monday, July 19, 2010

Maybe fighting IS the answer

Edgar is kicked out of school for constant fighting. So, he sits in my office and tells me how his mentor has helped him see himself differently and he doesn’t start as many fights as he used to (progress, not perfection)

   ”but they come at me, and I have to defend myself”. 

   “Who comes at you?” I ask. 

   “My enemies. I’m in a crew (gang). “Yeah, it’s hard to get out. We protect each other and they all know I can fight.”

   “How’s that working for you?”

   “I try to stop fighting because I’m getting in too much trouble and I want to graduate…and it’s hurting my mom. But the fight keeps coming to me.”

He’s a very smart young man. So, I throw a metaphor at him. There’s an old legend about Ghandi confronting a Cobra on his epic salt march. He was sitting amongst his followers when a cobra slithered into their midst. Everyone scrambled to avoid this creature with the lethal venom, but Ghandi simply sat there in the lotus position as the snake crawled across his legs and then exited the clearing. When the people asked him why he wasn’t afraid of the cobra’s bite, Ghandi replied that “I simply gave him nothing to fight against”.

   He gets it. “Because I walk around with fighting inside of me, fights find me.”

"Yeah", I say “you’re a fight magnet”.

   We talk awhile longer. He knows that something has to change. So, I try our 5 question process:

“So, what are you doing that brings these fights to you?”

   His answer ranges from his involvement in the crew to old rivalries and his reputation as a fighter.

“When does it usually happen?”

   We talk about time and place and triggers to fighting.

“What negative shit happens because of all this fighting?”

   He talks about getting kicked out of school, his mom and dad, fear about his future prospects. Interestingly, he never mentions the cuts, black eyes, swollen fists, etc.

“What benefit do you get out of it?”

   “I love to fight!”

This statement will be the key to our solution. He loves the challenge. He loves the physical exhilaration. He feels alive.

“What could you do to get all of those benefits without the negative stuff like getting kicked out of school and upsetting your mom?”

He explores his options; discusses joining the marines (I resist lecturing or interrupting and just let him work through it); football (but they don’t have a team in the only school we can get him into now); and boxing. Boxing, that’s it.

We make an agreement. Edgar promises not to instigate any fights and if a fight comes to him he will try to walk away two times before he defends himself by fighting back (progress, not perfection). In return I’ll get him into a boxing program.

So, I call Shelly, an ex-employee of YMC who has connections to a boxing gym in South Central LA. She has seen what a great outlet boxing can be for young men from the hood and agrees to make the introduction. We meet Edgar at the gym, and the old gentleman who will be his trainer greets him and tells him “I look at you walk in here and I can tell you are a fight magnet…” Edgar looks at me and smiles. We’re all on the same page.

I see how respectfully Edgar listens to the seasoned trainer. I see him soak up the energy of the gym. He’s at home here. And he can’t wait to get started.

Later that night I get a text from his mom, thanking me, Hoolie and all of the people at YMC with phrases that I don’t have to translate even though I don’t speak Spanish:

   “Muchas, muchas gracias”
   “Corazon gracias”
   “Y a todos su personal”

The following night I get the text from Edgar that will make Hoolie cry:

   Hey man…I just wanted 2 know if u were gonna show up at the gym 2morow and let u know that I’m no longer 4rm the crew…I’m out.

He asks me for his mentors number (he lost his phone and thus her number) so that he can text her too.

I love my life,


Youth Mentoring Connection/Urban Oasis

Boarding House Mentors

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