This past week, I attended the Youth Services Quality Council (YSQC) Annual Breakfast. YSQC acts as a resource for youth-serving agencies throughout Rochester to come together and further their professional development, promote their work, and develop partnerships or collaborations with each other. The annual breakfast is a time for these agencies to acknowledge and celebrate all of the work that they have done over the course of the past year, an affirmation which is often lost in the shuffle.
YSQC invited Dr. Adolf Brown, the “edu-tainer,” to act as their keynote speaker. As much as I’d like to scoff at the term, Dr. Brown really did educate and entertain. Walking onto the stage in sagged pants and a do-rag, Dr. Brown reminded us how important it was to not judge a book by its cover, or a youth by his appearance. Instead, view him by how he can appear–dressed in a suit, graduation robe, or Doctor’s coat.
What hit home the hardest, though, was how he spoke about youth “at risk.” At risk of what? What makes a 4-year-old child more “at risk” of dropping out of school than graduating with a Master’s degree? Or becoming a teen mother than becoming a teen advocate? We cannot pick and choose the youth that we work with. We can pick and choose how we respond to them. We can create safe places, teach new skills, lend an ear, raise expectations, and provide new opportunities. Just another acknowledgement of what we as youth-service workers in Rochester try to do every day.
After four months of working in youth service, complete with the long hours and program politics, his talk was just the reassurance I needed.