I've had to travel through bad neighborhoods before for my job. We perform at several at-risk schools throughout the year. Some are located in the middle of dilapidated housing projects, others are simply in old neighborhoods that have been abandoned by white flight. Today was the first time that I was filled with an overwhelming feeling of sadness for the kids we saw.
The school was not worse than others. The guidance counselor seemed compassionate. Yet....the kids had such an air of detachment and tiredness that I couldn't ignore it. Their eyes were dark, their faces glum. There was no playful chatter or overt friendliness with each other. They came in, sat down and looked forward, but they were a million miles away.
In between our two performances, we talked with the counselor and listened to her stories about having the school locked down, not because of the kids but because of the parents. Poverty, violence, drugs; they've taken their toll in this particular neighborhood. A local university had just done a research study in the area which showed that 85% of the adults in this neighborhood did not have a high school diploma. The school had 200 students that were held back for two years or more. That means 7 and 8 year-olds in kindergarten, 10 and 11 year-olds in second grade, 13 year-olds in fourth grade.
It's hard to wrap my mind around that.
My partner made a comment about not letting kids play video games, and the counselor quickly remarked that most of them didn't have video games; they were too poor for that. Most of their families struggled to pay the water bill consistently.
As I looked out over the faces of these bedraggled kids, imagining what life is like for them, I wanted to cry. Their problems are too big for an hour show about bullying and stereotyping. A few well-chosen words won't transform their lives or give them stability in their homes.
Lord, help me to remember those left behind.