Being there is a term that came up a lot in our conversations in the YMEJ graduate seminar this year. In discussing ways to re-imagine experiences for court involved youth, our conversations often circled back to the support networks people require in order to live. Michel Bérubé (1996) makes a similar point in his book, Life as we Know It about his family and his son Jamie who has down syndrome. In his discussion of Jamie’s growth and development Bérubé notes that people with labeled disabilities are not the only ones who require a strong support network in order to survive and thrive. In fact, everyone benefits from such a network.
Our conversations in YMEJ centered on how to “be there” for a court involved young person, and for each other. We discussed the importance for all people (and especially young people) of having at least one person in your life who is going to stand by you no matter what. Beam (2013) has a similar theme when she quotes a participant’s phrase: “You gotta rock with a kid all the way”.
For me, the phrase “Being there” brings up memories of a movie with the same title starring Peter Sellars (the last movie released while he was alive). The film is a comedy, but also poignant in conceptualizing the phrase being there. The main arch of the film is that Chance (Sellar’s character), a gardener for a large estate has always been there. For all intents he is a non-entity, yet when people meet him, they mistake him for the owner of the estate and begin projecting their own thoughts and ideas about him. My point in bringing up the film (beyond the fact that it is fantastic and I highly recommend watching it) is that being there is itself a passive sentiment. I do not mean this as a critique, but to point out the multitude of ways to support another person without infusing your own thoughts, ideas, actions etc. As the movie highlights, being there is a passive, yet powerful act.
It is especially powerful when you consider the complications that inundate the various systems for court-involved youth. Being there for someone, rocking with them all the way, sounds somewhat simplistic. Of course, people engaging in this work will tell you it is far from simple. In truth, sometimes being there is not enough. But it is a place to start and something I believe, all people can decide to do. I think it helps when you collaborate, if you are going to be there for a young person, you need to have someone who is there for you.
In the YMEJ seminar we created a community that is by no means perfect, but I do think it is comprised of people who are willing to be there for each other. Being there for each other and by extension the people in our lives, we begin to weave a powerful network. It helps me sustain through the difficulties of this work. It helps me imagine the possibilities for making small shifts in the larger systems. This work cannot be done alone. Being there for each other is an integral first step.