Standing in the gap (3)

Dear President Trump,

Both the caring letters suicide intervention and the program to curb cycles of violence for young black men profiled in the HP remind me of something Mother Teresa’s said: “The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis but rather the feeling of not belonging.”

There are probably just about as many ways to feel one doesn’t belong as there are people on the planet since we collectively excel at coming up with ways to draw lines that exclude one another, whether they are lines on a map that we defend with tear gas or invisible lines between cafeteria tables demarcating popularity zones. We all know that the in-group/out-group thing is incredibly aversive and most of us would do just about anything to stay ensconced in an in-group. Thus, when people are on the outside of a desired in-group, their options can feel pretty bleak and it can take heroic efforts to bring them back into the fold and for them to risk giving the fold a chance.

The third HP “standing in the gap” article is also loosely about in- and out-groups. It describes a charter school in NYC that’s designed around the needs of foster children, who are typically relegated to extreme out-group status. Over the past 10 years the school, Haven, has developed ways to support these kids’ so that they have steady, consistent adults who help them figure out how to cope with their myriad stresses. The school has a mix of foster kids, kids from at risk families, and kids from the neighborhood. Compared with typical school settings, Haven has more class room staffing, more counselors and social workers, more family programs, and more communication about what kids are going through. One of the really cool things about what’s happening here is that not only are the foster and at risk kids doing far better with attendance and academic achievement than their counterparts at other schools, but the kids from the neighborhood are thriving too. Turns out that strong programming designed to lift up the most vulnerable ends up helping everyone (duh, I know, but still worth making the point since you tend to miss obvious stuff that doesn’t fit your world view).

May we all find safe havens.
May we all be happy to reach across lines to welcome those who’ve been left out.
May we rework the old divisive scripts and come up with healthier, more inclusive ways.
May we make peace with whatever it is that drives our line-drawing so we can move past it.

Sincerely,
Tracy Simpson

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