Earlier this week I thought that movie season - the opposite of baseball season - had come early this year. With the Red Sox's playoff hopes dwindling, I'd just as soon watch more movies and fewer ball games.
Now I'm reluctantly being pulled back on board, by the sheer force of my desire to see my team win. Their chances are anorexic, but not dead. If a game is on, I'm watching. As someone at Joy Of Sox recently said, "Sometimes being a fan is a privilege. Other times it's a duty."
But not at 1:00 a.m. While my baseball obsession knows few boundaries, Allan's knows none. The Sox are on the west coast now, and he stays up nightly to watch every game. I can't watch more than three innings of a west-coast game, but it does give us more time to watch movies. We saw an interesting and touching film this week, called "OT: Our Town". It's been compared to "Spellbound" (the spelling-bee movie, not the Hitchcock film) and "Mad Hot Ballroom", because it's about young people, and the drive to succeed against difficult obstacles.
"OT: Our Town" is much more simple and low-budget than either of those films. It's the story of a group of students in Compton, California who are putting on the play "Our Town," the American classic by Thornton Wilder.
The students are low-income kids from a rough neighbourhood. Kids from their school are stereotyped as gangstas - expected to do nothing and go nowhere. The only activity their school district supports is sports. The school has a beautiful gym and basketball court, professional-looking uniforms and money for travel and awards banquets, but no stage and no auditorium. The student production of "Our Town" will be the first play produced at their school in 21 years.
With no budget and no experience, but with the guidance, support and badgering of two caring teachers, they figure out how to make it work. If "Our Town" - life and death in Grovers Corner, New Hampshire at the turn of the last century - seems an odd choice for inner-city kids from Southern California, the students couldn't agree more. But they find relevance in the play, and they make it their own.
I felt like I knew these kids - because I used to know them.
Watching this movie reminded me, again, of how much I liked working with teenagers, specifically with the marginalized kids euphemistically called "inner-city youth". Attending the AIDS Conference Global Village brought back those memories, too. Events are conspiring.
* * * *
I volunteered for many years at an amazing youth centre called The Door. That volunteer position unexpectedly led to teaching jobs, both at The Door and at a New York City alternative school, where kids who had dropped out of school were studying for their equivalency diplomas.
The students were young people perservering in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Each had endured loss and hardship that would have been crushing in any adult life. They had lost loved ones, witnessed horrific violence, been abandoned, been abused. Some were refugees from war and genocide in Africa, others from the wars in the projects. Many were "misfits" in some way, like GLBT kids who were flamboyantly out. All the girls had babies.
The Door was a true community. Young people could receive a hot meal, medical care, counseling of every sort, and education, and get involved in political action, spiritual enlightenment, or whatever else they needed. For some, it was a safe and quiet place to do homework after school. For others, it was the only place they found love and acceptance. For all, it was an oasis.
It was a community for me, too, and nurtured my own spirit in many ways. I was supposedly a tutor, but I was also a willing ear, a supportive shoulder, a friend, a reality check, a caring adult, an example. More than one member told me I was the first white person they ever really knew who wasn't a cop.
Working at The Door and at YALA was sometimes emotionally wrenching. Relationships were intense, but short-lived. Young people came into your life, you connected, you did what you could, and they disappeared.
After volunteering weekly for many years, I was offered a temporary teaching job, filling in for a maternity leave, and from there, I found the position at the alternative school. But from teaching full-time, I discovered that I was better off volunteering.
My writing career was starting to blossom, and always felt torn in two. I felt I could be neither the writer nor the teacher I wanted to be. I had already decided to go back to a less creative, less demanding day-job, when YALA was disbanded from state budget cuts. (Thanks, George Pataki.)
I went back to word-processing, but my volunteering and activism went in a different direction, towards sexual assault and domestic violence work.
More than a decade has passed since I last worked with kids. Something tells me they still need the same things.