Today, as I walked hand in hand with my three year old son through the parking lot of his preschool, he looked up at me and said, “Mama, two boys try to fight me today.” My heart skipped a beat and luckily, I knew his emerging vocabulary well enough to ask a question or two and learn that “try to fight me” meant pointing a stick in his direction on the playground, while making light saber noises. I opened the passenger side door and watched his increasingly long body climb over the front seat and into his car seat in the back and was reminded again of why the work that I have the privilege of doing with Born This Way Foundation matters and why the Emotion Revolution is so important.
On Saturday, October 24th almost four-hundred people will gather in the Zhang Auditorium on the Yale University campus. The seats will be filled with young people from across the country, teachers and administrators from schools of all sizes, elected officials from up and down the East Coast, leaders of some of our nation’s largest philanthropic institutions, and researchers who spend their days deep in sobering statistics about what is happening in our children’s schools.
We’ll discuss data about how youth stress levels are – for the first time – outpacing adult stress levels in our country. We’ll talk about how in one study, about 49% of children in grades 4 through 12 have reported being bullied by their peers at least once during the past month. You’ll hear a speaker talk about how depression is diagnosed in kids as young as ten years old, and those numbers are on the rise. Your hearts will sink as you hear about the suicide rates in our nation’s schools and meet parents whose resolve has been tested and whose hearts have been broken.
This is all true and it is all vitally important. I would suggest though, that even more important, is to listen to the young people who’ll sit on the stage and tell you about the creative ways they are encouraging their fellow students. These students are building collaborative partnerships between school administrators and students, launching best in class non-profits aimed at connecting young people, and serving as examples of what it means to be kind and brave every day.
It will be among the greatest honors of my life to meet and learn about the amazing young people who will fill Zhang Auditorium on Saturday. Nora started a “My Mental Health Matters” club at her school that works to break the stigma attached to mental health issues. Grace works tirelessly to raise awareness about teen dating violence, starting a martial arts based anti-violence non-profit. Andrew came out in front of his entire study body, through poetry and sparked a conversation about LGBT issues in schools. After seeing first-hand the negativity impacting her school, Gabby started a social media initiative called “Buddy Project” to pair young people struggling with mental illness, eating disorders, and self-harm with buddies to help them cope. I can fill pages and pages with inspiring examples of young people who know the statistics, understand the challenges, and choose to focus on solutions, collaboration, and hope.
It is in Nora, Grace, Andrew, Gabby, and the hundreds of other young people that will join us on Saturday, that I find my hope.
I want to add my voice to the chorus of voices who believe the Emotion Revolution is important, who believe in the power of youth to solve our greatest problems, and who realize the urgency of this work. I want to do this not as the Director of Impact and Operation for Born This Way Foundation, but instead, as a mother of two curious, energetic, and kind children. For the past three years, I’ve had the privilege of seeing the world through their eyes. I’ve come to refer to strangers as “buddies” and eagerly point out garbage trucks to passing pedestrians and pay special attention to the color of leaves and the smell of flowers. I listen eagerly as my son counts to sixteen, skipping thirteen and fourteen every time, and I learn along with him about planets and orbits (quietly asking my husband, “the Earth revolves around the sun?!”).
My son loves to learn, he loves his friends, he loves his classroom and before today, I don’t think I had heard him say the word fight. I know this work and I know our world and I’m not naïve enough to think that he’ll skip eagerly off to eighth grade, anticipating the next astronomy test. I do hope that he continues to feel valued, respected, challenged, and supported. I will fight – personally and professionally – to ensure that. I can’t do it alone, and as Hunter and Logan’s mom, I want to thank you for doing this work. You don’t know Hunter and Logan and you don’t know the other children to whom your work will matter, and yet you do it anyway. To everyone in the Zhang Auditorium, to everyone watching at home, to everyone that made the Emotion Revolution possible and to everyone committed to this work long after the last speaker leaves the stage, thank you.