What keeps me in New Orleans is the culture, the people, the music, the food, the love. I was born and raised in New Orleans and have been at IWES as a full-time employee since around 2012, but I joined IWES in 2006 as a Peer Advocate in the Media Advocates for Prevention (MAP) program when I was a Sophomore in high school. When I graduated from high school, I got the opportunity to actually come on as a part-time staff member as the Youth Coordinator and work with MAP.
Around 2010 one of my roles with MAP was to lead a segment at the meetings called “Gab with Gabby.” Especially after Katrina, there were a lot of things that we young people didn’t get a chance to talk about relating to trauma that we actually didn’t know we were dealing with. But we were. And we needed that time just to be able to get things off our chests. It could sometimes be as simple as what happened in a day. It could have been bad, some of it was good, but it was just that time around other people to sit and express ourselves and I was glad that I could just be that listening ear. I was just listening and that was enough.
I'm constantly learning new things from young people. I think that's my biggest reward because a lot of times people think, “oh young people don't know things,” and as a young(er) person I did used to feel adults didn't hear us, or that people didn't understand us. But we have so much to offer, so much to give and now being on the other side as an educator listening to youth, it just feels good
As an educator that’s not based in one location or one school, but that instead goes into classrooms and community spaces, I’ve reflected upon a few things. Youth are in schools all of the time and it is where we need to start. We have to get everybody (faculty, educators, parents) on board to factor in the impact of trauma on our kids because it helps us understand that young people are not acting out because they just want to give you a hard time. Something is going on, something's wrong, and there’s something that they have to get out. Instead of yelling and screaming at young people, they need a place to let that out. They need a place to talk about it, to deal with it, and to learn how to cope, you know. It shapes and frames who they are and the people that they're going to be and it's so important to be in tune with self and your mental health. So we have to start focusing on this while they're in school because this is a place where they spend eight to nine hours a day, but there are also lessons and ways to engage with youth that we want to share with parents.
Parents have a huge role to play in creating trauma-informed spaces for our children. In many cases, if parents aren’t playing that role it’s because they don't know much about trauma or just because they're so wrapped up in what they're trying to do as a parent that they don't have time to think through this lens. What's most important, I think, is the communication that we have from parent to child. We have to be patient and understand their feelings, and that maybe a cry or scream or an outburst is not always a child being upset or just having an attitude, it may be more of a sign that “I need you.” Through our Believe in Youth – Louisiana! (BY-LA!) program we created a Parent Advisory Team (PAT) to teach parents these kinds of things so that they can recognize what’s going on underneath the surface and know how to deal with it.
Our Parent Advisory Team is a way to reach parents to understand what their needs are as a parent in talking about sex-ed - what to say, how to say it, and how to have these conversations. They need those tools. Some people just don't get it and, you know, that's normal. Parents need that help. It's just all about talking to our kids and making sure they know that we're here and that we love them and embrace them, you know. A simple hug, a kiss, an arm around the shoulder, that all makes a child know, my mom is here, my dad's here, or my guardian is here and I feel safe.
As parents we also have to know that the way our children express themselves may not always be verbal. You have to be able to see that maybe your child’s drawings are speaking to you, or maybe their outbursts are different and they’re a sign of new things they're dealing with. I know as parents we have a lot to do, too. It's hard. I have a toddler. He's three, and it can be overwhelming sometimes. He's active - his batteries don't ever run out, you know. So I try to always remember to be patient and understand that OK, he doesn't understand everything I'm saying and I don't understand everything he may be going through. I have to just meet him where he is so we can both help each other understand.
A lot of times we as young people don't all get the opportunities I’ve had to learn and to gain knowledge and information about myself and how my feelings and my thoughts impact what's going on around me. With me having the tools and the things that I've learned from IWES, I just want to give it away. That's my thing. I've always wondered, like, “What am I supposed to do in my life? What's next for me?” I later realized it's right here. The work I do giving back - it's very important to me and it’s my calling.