"My 15-year old friend was just murdered by a gang member. He was like my brother and I don't know what to do next." He sat in the "hot" seat explaining his situation and seeking advice. The hot seat is a special activity we use with students to allow them to share a personal issue they are dealing with and to seek advice, primarily from their peers. Last week I was teaching a group of twenty students from a particularly rough part of Atlanta. Because of the sensitivity of this week's letter I'm going to keep the student's name out of the message as well as the name of the program.
The student continued, "He killed my friend and I'm really hurting. We were both in a gang and my friend messed with the other guy's stuff and he got shot. We're part of the Crips and the other guy's one of the Bloods. There's a code we deal with. You kill one of us then you get killed. After something like this happens, we make a kill list. All the gang members sign it and when you sign it you agree that if you see the other guy then you will take him out. If you don't do it, then you can get killed because you didn't back up your brother. But now I'm all confused. I'm not sure what to do."
This was some hot seat. This kid was dealing with a very serious situation. It was day four of a five day program and we were teaching the class all seven mindsets...Everything is Possible, Passion First, We are Connected, 100% Accountable, Attitude of Gratitude, Live to Give, and the Time is Now. The day before we really dug into 100% Accountable and how we may not be able to control all the things that happen to us but we sure can control how we respond to them. Many of our actions create the next series of events in our life and if we want to change our future then we have to adjust how we are living in the present.
One of the other students in the class asked what the student in the hot seat was confused about. He went on to explain that his best friend joined the gang when he was only 9 years old. He said that by the time he turned 15 his friend had killed 9 people. He started thinking about that yesterday during the 100% Accountable lesson and was wondering if his friend's actions and lifestyle finally caught up to him. He also started to realize that maybe revenge was the wrong action for him to take now. He signed the kill list because he was mad and upset and now what's he supposed to do. He doesn't want to kill anyone and he doesn't want to die either.
A girl in the class asked him why he joined the gang in the first place and he said both his uncle and his mentor joined so he thought it was the right thing to do. Another student suggested there was a more positive way he could respond. He said "Maybe I can become a leader of the gang and then change how we operate from the inside out. Maybe we can go back to the original roots of the gang when it was formed to simply protect people in the neighborhood." Another student said that was too much of a stretch. The feedback and advice kept flying as I watched real peer-to-peer support take place. Kids got up and gave him a hug as he broke down in tears. He was only 15 years old and I was watching a real transformation take place. He was experiencing a breakthrough. I've always said that if you change your mindset you can change your life.
This week's letter may not resonate with what's going on in your life, but I hope you can take away the same value of the message. No matter how bad things get, you are never the victim as long as you remember that you, and only you, have the power to decide what to do next. You may not be able to go back and start a new beginning but you can start today and create a new ending.
Until next week...
Live Your Dreams!