I have visited downtown quite a bit --- and worked there for a couple of years. I have seen groups of young people walking around downtown --- but have never really noticed them "hanging out" there. Downtown Bangor doesn't seem a likely teen hangout. But this weekend I saw a group of teens skateboarding on the steps of one of the local banks. They looked so great for photographing, so after circling downtown about three times in order to find a parking spot, I shouted out to them that I would like to photograph them ... and would they wait for me to park. Thankfully, they were very enthusiastic.
It was an absolutely gorgeous, sunny day ... snow melting everywhere ... and people coming out of their hibernation to soak it all in. When I finally parked the car, got the camera settings just right, and walked over to the skateboarding group ... they were ready for me. One young man even pointed out the best spots I might want to stand at in order to get some "killer" & "sick" shots.
I did get some great shots too. These kids were so much fun. I appreciated them in so many ways. In the short time I spent with them, I heard and saw some pain in their lives ... and also saw how big and beautiful their hearts were. It was such a treat. I gave them my card, told them to contact me to see their pictures ... and then we joyfully parted ways.
I then went on to photograph some buildings, the local guitar man (who belts out his tunes without want for money --- just a smile and a hello), some great guys from the local homeless shelter, etc. Then, when I returned to my parked car, I noticed that the skateboarders were engaged in a heated argument with a woman of at least 70 years old. The kids saw me and shouted out for me to come over to assist them. I wondered what harm an older lady and her "foo-foo" dog could do ... but still I walked over.
It seems that the old woman was chastising the kids for not doing something better with their lives. She insisted that they were breaking the law by skateboarding on public property (she is likely right about this). She assumed that they were slackers ... and was engaged in talking down to them. To be fair, the kids started it (once I asked how this all began). Apparently, this woman's dog barked at the kids for fear of their skateboarding and the kids shouted for the dog to "shut up".
Because I had gained the trust of these new young friends, I explained to them that it was highly unnecessary for them to treat their elders in that manner ... after all, shouting "shut up" to an old woman's dog was akin to shouting "shut up" at the old woman. Not right. Period. I am not sure whether they agreed with me or not ... as the anger they felt was more over what this woman assumed about them after they had upset her. She talked to them about how in her day they didn't do this ... and they did do that ... and how kids these days have no respect, no education, no morality, etc...etc... Basically, she did alot of talking down to them ... with an air of snobbery and sarcasm. She was beginning to grate on my nerves. I respect my elders --- there is no doubt of that. But her negative assumptions about their characters was unacceptable to me ... just as the disrespect they showed her was unacceptable. So, I had to put my two cents in ...
I told the woman that these were great kids. That I was glad they were here skateboarding in downtown ... then out getting high, vandalizing, or causing harmful mischief. I told her that they weren't hurting anybody ... and that I believed in them ... and maybe others should too. She kept insisting that they go out and get jobs ... to which I replied, "What jobs?". College students can barely get McDonalds jobs around here right now. She then insisted that they not break laws ... after all ... would it be alright for her to just pass through a red light and thus break the law? I replied that by passing through that red light, she was likely to kill someone, but that this skateboarding wasn't going to kill anyone. She was getting very upset with me by this point and said, "Well, their skateboarding is upsetting my dog." To which (please forgive me dog lovers) I replied, "With all due respect mam, that is only a dog ... these kids and their need to find a safe hangout is of far more consequence than your upset dog." She then asked me if I had ever broken a law ... to which I replied "Yes" (and quickly raced through my mind to try to find someone I knew who hadn't). That was the last straw for her ... she huffed away ... telling me that I was not an upright citizen either ... and that I should be ashamed, etc.
I then turned to this group of young people, who although they would never admit it, were upset by the entire conversation ... (who likes to be told what degenerates they are anyway? Really.) ... and told them to never accept what anyone else says about them ... that THEY know who they are. And as far as I was concerned, I believed in them ... and that they were all going to do alright by themselves.
And THAT is the summary of this story .... this is why I am telling it : I have learned within my 35 years of life that if you want to motivate people ... don't tell them how much they suck. Believe in them, encourage them ... and then they will believe in themselves. Show them grace and love by example. Be love ... give love ... listen to people without criticisms ... have faith that we are all just trying to do our best in this world. Especially our teens --- in a time when they are seeking out their identities --- in the face of peer pressures --- conflicting societal messages --- etc. --- let us ENCOURAGE them, BELIEVE in them. They are our future. And if perhaps their home lives have not given them the love, faith and encouragements that they have needed ... then it is even more important that others do.
So, if you guys are reading this (and I have a feeling you might be) I DO believe in you ... I believe in your power to create amazing lives for yourselves ... I saw your enormous capacity for love and I believe in its power within you. Don't ever let anyone tell you differently ... and better yet, stop shouting at old lady's dogs! Give the respect that you want in return. You all showed me nothing but respect ... and I gave it back to you. That's how the world works. I look forward to more "killer" / "sick" photo sessions with you guys. So stay in touch.
Thank you all for reading this. I was a little long winded, but felt the need to spread this message. Hope I wasn't too preachy.I just feel very strongly about this :)
If you want to see more of these kids in action, check out http://www.jlr-photography.blogspot.com/ and/or here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thishandmadelife/.
Lots of Love,