Perhaps one of the reasons that adolescents make adults uncomfortable is because they do not mask their emotions as well as their elders. And of those emotions that pervade the psyche of an adolescent, none is more potent than anger. They get angry because they are misunderstood. They get angry because they are denied certain freedoms. They get angry because….
Johnston is smart. Johnston is powerful. Johnston is angry.
I first met Johnston, a street association member, at our Digital Storytelling relaunch event. We invited representatives from over 20 street associations to come, learn about the program, and discuss the issues of greatest concern to them. Johnston sat in the front row, and even from the first moment he spoke, it was clear he had an edge.
“Does anyone have any questions?” I asked.
Johnston raised his hand, “Yes. My question is, what good does this program do for us? We need to eat. We need jobs.”
Like I said. Adolescents have the capacity to make adults very uncomfortable. That’s how my interaction with Johnston began, but as the afternoon progressed, I was impressed by his comments on the issues that street youth faced. I was impressed by how young people that had just met him were already deferring to him. So when it came time to choose which of 10 of the 30 students we would choose to train in DSP, despite his hostility, Martin, Joseph, Alixa, and I spent a long time debating the pros and cons of Johnston.
Then Johnston staged a rebellion concerning transportation costs, and that pretty much sealed the deal for him.
I was not oblivious to a certain irony of this. A young person feels they live in a society where they are constantly cheated out of their inheritance, a society where they have to fight for every advantage, a society where they can’t necessarily trust that adults have their best interest in mind. Why wouldn’t that young person assume the same in this moment? And when that young person speaks up, acts out, rebels, they are further alienated from that which they most want. Autonomy and authority.
We didn’t choose Johnston to represent his community, but we did choose Martin, another member of Johnston’s community. Martin is just about the antithesis of Johnston. Whereas Johnston is usually stoic, Martin almost always has a serene smile on his face. Whereas Johnston sets you on edge, Martin puts you at ease. And whereas Johnston leads from the front, and you can follow if you feel like it, Martin urges from the back and brings the whole group along.
And yet, Johnston has not let us rest. After a couple of weeks running DSP, Martin confessed that there was a bit of a rebellion underway at Ahadi. That Johnston felt like Undugu was making empty promises to their Association, promises they were not keeping. Johnston wanted Martin to stop attending the Saturday trainings. We asked Martin if he wanted to stop, and he told us that no, he didn’t.
A mediation seemed to be in order. So, I spoke with Kangethe, a youth facilitator, about quelling the rebellion at Ahadi. He went to speak with them the next day. I came to visit the community later that same day. Martin said that he thought things were a little better. Johnston, however, was “sleeping” and didn’t want to be disturbed. As Martin walked me to the bus stop he said, “People have told me he has always been like this. He doesn’t want to see anyone go past him. Get more than him.”
It is easy to myself feel angry about such a sentiment, but in his defense, why shouldn’t Johnston be after power for his own advancement without little regard for what it could mean to his communi?ty. This is too often the model of leadership in Kenya where politicians seem all too willing to set the landscape on fire as long as it suits their needs. The difference is, the leaders of his country are old enough to know better.
Perhaps another reason that adolescents make adults uncomfortable is because they have a sense of justice that is not as “nuanced” as that of their elders. I am hard-working, therefore I deserve a job. I am smart, therefore I deserve an education. Johnston does deserve these things, as do all the youth in Kenya, and anger can be useful in fueling the fight for those rights. But at what point does that anger become too combustible to be productive? Perhaps when it starts destroying opportunities rather than forging them.
Posted By Barbara Dziedzic
Posted Aug 6th, 2009