Helping Youth Make Sense of the Tragedy They See Around Them

You can’t go far this week without hearing about the horrible events of this past weekend which led to the brutal murder of celebrity actress/singer Jenifer Hudson’s family members. The most shocking story to come out of the news was the multiple shooting of her nephew who was only 7 years-old.
I was sickened, literally feeling ill, when I heard the news. How many times have we heard Amber Alerts and waited with bated breath for a positive outcome. The fact that this double murder quickly became a triple homicide was unimaginable. This wasn’t sad because Jenifer Hudson is a celebrity. It is because all of us can recall someone we know in a unstable family situation. This is the ending we never want to hear about.
Our children are watching this too as this news hits our airwaves. How are we helping them process this news and news like this that is witnessed from a distance and deals with life and death?
I wrote about this in 2006 when the Ballou High School shootings hit close to home with the young people I worked with. What I suggested then and reinforce today is that we as adults take the lead in helping young people process this information. My belief is that, without discussion and the ability of young people to talk about it and ask questions, we are promoting the action of being desensitized or being unable or uncomfortable with handling emotionally difficult situations.
During this week, in your in-school or after-school program/classroom this week, gauge how your students are doing by:
1. Asking them what are their thoughts on the situation.===> This promotes ease with articulating what you are seeing, hearing and feeling.
2. Asking them what are some things that are probably helpful for the family ====> This promotes the reality that we are all able to offer support to others, no matter how far away they are or how well we know them. If the class wants to make a card, send a group email, etc., this type of activity builds empathy.
As adults, we can help young people build their empathy and coping skills and encourage them to put things in perspective.

The Re:Verse Literary Conference was a Blast for SOYA!

Kudos to Ron Kavanaugh and the Literary Freedom Project for putting on this year’s Re:Verse Literary Conference and Festival at Hostos Community College in Bronx, NY. It was great being a part of this wonderful event which connects educators to best practices for engaging young people in literary pursuits.

Check out some of the photos captured during my workshop by MYST Studios. More pictures and video will be placed on the new SOYA website slated to re-launch in November 2008.