I want to thank all the teachers, counselors, various council members and pastors in the Gig Harbor-Key Peninsula area who reached out to me after reading my first column (“Being Diversity,” January 2022). Yes, “This is our village!” I knew there was merit to my living on the KP the last 14 years, even if that will soon come to an end.
The community realized I wasn’t trying to hold any one ethnicity accountable for the sometimes awkward or worse behavior shown toward me and mine here at home. I understood the reaction of some friends who thought maybe I was exaggerating the racism I described or influenced what transpired by being too much of “an intense Black man” at times.
For concrete thinkers, white people contributed to the Underground Railroad, the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Civil Rights Movement, just to name a few times when community made the difference. I also learned that just because some are engaged in equity, diversity and inclusion committees in our society does not mean all are there for the right reasons.
But for those of us who believe in that work, we are always building community for the next generation.
I was at the Key Center Public Library one cold rainy day a month ago. The staff was assisting me at the front desk in their usual professional fashion when an agitated young man came in and wanted to use their phone.
He appeared to be about high school age. You could hear the wet squishing of his sneakers. You could see his windbreaker soaked from the rain. You could see water dripping from his hair onto the carpet. You could feel something off in the way he spoke even as his face was hidden behind a sodden, dirty mask. You could tell that the librarians were slightly alarmed by his presence.
I introduced myself and asked the youth his name. He had walked from Peninsula High School to the library. He said he’d just been suspended because his “friends” were bullying him. He contritely described the behavior that got him suspended, like he was confessing a crime. I asked him to use the bathroom to clean up and dry off as much as he could, then come talk with me while he warmed up out of the rain.
The child returned and talked about how he gets bullied both verbally and physically, “and no one does anything about it.” I asked him if he told the teachers. “They don’t care about me,” he said. He talked about troubles with his girlfriend. “One day she breaks up with me and the next day she wants to be with me. I don’t get it. I told her to leave me alone if she doesn’t want me.” He talked about how his girlfriend’s mother always talks to him. He wanted to use the library phone to call her, but I asked him to talk with me as the staff looked on.
He talked about how “everything started when I moved from Gig Harbor.” His parents were having relationship problems too. He talked about how he was on a special education plan at school and that sometimes he was so frustrated he thought about suicide. I asked if he felt like harming himself now and he said no, and he promised that he would tell someone first.
After validating his stressors, I asked him to name a time in life when he was happy. “When I used to play football. I love football,” he said. It was a pleasure to see this youth’s smile fill the room, reaching all the way to the staff listening to us. With that strengths-based perspective, he was able to de-escalate himself from this personal crisis.
I gave him my contact information and asked him to call me. I told him that social workers follow a code of ethics, and that I wanted him to talk to his parents about me before we planned to meet again.
The library staff seemed relieved and happy that I was there to assist, but their mutual, collective acceptance was support that helped this child. He needed more from his school that day, maybe full wraparound services for a variety of needs, and more from his community — us. But he did get one thing that day he needed: People who will listen.
The child did not call me. But that doesn’t mean he’s not out there, he and a lot of others just like him, who need someone — who need their community — to listen.
Rion Tisino lives in Longbranch.
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