A Limitless Sky (youth summer guest series)

Over the next 4 weeks I will be looking at the issues I highlight in this article from the perspective of neuroscience, and our neurobiological responses to development, adversity, change, and each other.

I was asked, “What are some the biggest problems the youth of Chicago face every day?” The research will tell you it's gun violence, racism, poverty and other things of that nature. While those issues may be the cause of many difficulties and the effects of others, I prefer to dig a little deeper under the surface based on my experience and that of my friends as actual young people in the City of Chicago. Problems cannot be solved without understanding the mindset and feelings of the people caught within, based on their voiced experiences. The biggest problems the youth of Chicago face are greater and go deeper than the tree of growing issues presented by research -- it begins at the roots.

Unawareness. Roots twist and tangle to ultimately form that tree I mentioned, but a tree does not grow from its roots. The roots, provide water, and nutrients -- the roots make life possible, yet unaware of their own environment or what might lie beyond. First, we have unawareness, a lack of knowledge or lack of available information. For example, in my experience, years went by where I felt a book did not exist in this world that could provide me with the information I sought out. I now know that an entire area of study, a profession, exists with answers to the questions I was asking. I am now aware, and I've found both direction and purpose when I once felt I had neither, just suspended in time and going with the flow. Unawareness automatically installs a glass ceiling over one's head. Things, circumstances, can look limited or bleak when we are unaware that there is more to what we see when we look up at this ceiling. Not knowing that we can reach beyond it, that we can still go higher and that there is more to aim for, we paint our dreams onto this ceiling in hopes that we will someday reach it -- unaware that we might find more beyond that cap just waiting to be broken.

So, it starts with being unaware, not knowing what is possible. When you don't know that there is more for you than where you started, you stop caring -- naturally no one wants to feel powerless over their own future.

Caring. What do you do when you don’t know or feel like anything can change? You give up. This issue of caring, this root, is the lifeblood of growth and needs nurturing because if one hasn't cared for a long time, caring withers. Not caring or not feeling cared for becomes a habit, a way of life, and everything is seen through this lens. When change does come, when opportunity does knock, it can be lost because change feels like an attack rather than a helping hand.

So, being unaware that your dreams are possible beyond this ceiling, leads to apathy and carelessness that can blind one from seeing opportunity or from accepting the helping hand that offers another path. Communications are confused and then lost.

Communication and community. Trees in a forest form a collective and “communicate” via a network -- their roots. Saplings found in deeply shaded parts of a forest will survive as nutrients are directed to them -- the communal network is their lifeline and without it they would not survive. The same is true for people. When communication is lost, it separates, it isolates, and no one is on the same team anymore. This is an unfortunate issue that affects both youth and those trying to help them. A helping hand may sound pleasant enough, but without clear communication or connection, many see it as a hand that comes from above, making them feel like victims or lesser than since “betterment” is defined by others and usually equals “elevating” one from the very place they call home, their comfort zone, their “nutrient network” --  regardless of the surrounding situations. Your definition of home and my definition of home might differ, but both deserve respect. People have grown to call this their home, and don't see that the bars on the windows aren't there for protection but to keep them trapped inside. Dreams still painted on the ceiling and opportunity knocking at the door they sit in bed more annoyed by the knock than curious. It can also be discouraging to have your hand slapped away by the very people you are trying to help time and again, so people stop communicating and connection is lost, opportunity is lost, community is lost. For real understanding and connection, communication is needed from both sides to build community.

Foundation. A tree grows from what came before, the tips of its branches. The trunk serves as a 2-way pipeline between the roots and leafy crown - it is the foundation. Family foundation is the 2-way pipeline between home and the world at large. We are all someone's family, but when there is a vicious lack of foundation at home, people can’t speak, don't care, and lose touch. Surrounded by family and friends one can still feel all alone. The world at large can be harsh and not being able to step away from it for a moment in your very own home can be brutal. It becomes a way of living that is normal and then it is taught again to the next generation, continuing the cycle of lifetimes, on repeat, until someone takes control of their own future and breaks the cycle.

Taking guns off the streets and having fancier houses will not fix the problems the youth of today face in this city and beyond. We need to elevate, to evolve and real change starts with us (youth): how can we go about changing these habits of not getting involved, keeping to ourselves and only focusing on what we know? These issues I’ve highlighted are plaguing us right now, and even more so our future. Habits, ways of living and coping, are learned but can also be changed. It all starts when we all open our minds and grow beyond, breaking through that glass ceiling looming above our heads, releasing all the stars trapped inside. You'd be surprised by just how much they can illuminate a limitless sky.

 -- Devin Clark, Chicago 2019


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