The longest-running Inside-Out alumni program at the U of O is the Serbu Book Club. 10 U of O students and I spent the just-concluded academic term working with 12 Phoenix youth, as we call them: teenagers who are living and receiving comprehensive services within the secure Phoenix treatment program. Our group spent its first meeting reflecting on how the shortcomings of Lane County have challenged our happiness and/or well-being, at times. Tupac Shakur's poem "The Rose That Grew From Concrete" served as the foundational metaphor. We are all roses seeking to flourish, yet many of us develop amidst a concrete-like environment that threatens to choke our growth. Our group identified elements of 'the concrete': gangs, parents addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, a lack of role models, homelessness, inadequate and out of touch schools, etc. The examples of life's 'concrete' that we brainstormed didn't come from nowhere, but rather from the personal experiences of Book Club members (and almost entirely from the Phoenix youth, not surprisingly).
Our group acknowledged its struggles and their sources, but didn't wallow in this stage. We took our new awareness of our group members' situations with us as fuel for fire in our development of solutions. How do we destroy the concrete that holds back so many young people in Lane County? With what do we replace it?
We self-selected into "Task Forces" to answer the above questions. Our Phoenix youth and U of O students worked together, in small groups, for almost four weeks to design solutions to youth homelessness, gangs, hate and bullying, and teen drug abuse.
The term culminated with a closing ceremony held last Friday (March 23rd). Donuts were eaten; assorted fruit was frowned at, then eaten; certificates of outstanding community participation were awarded. Best of all, the Serbu Book Club welcomed its first 'outside' guest, Mayor Kitty Piercy of Eugene. Mayor Piercy listened warmly (sitting within our circle rather than pontificating to us--not that she would've wanted to do that, anyway!) as each Task Force presented its 'public narrative' to her. Her feedback, for which she was allotted two minutes, was warm and encouraging. But the way that she responded was really exceptional because it was also honest and engaging of the ideas presented. Finally, the youth got the last word; they were given a chance to respond to the Mayor's feedback.
After we wrapped up the closing ceremony, the Phoenix youth and U of O students mingled more than they ever have, like friends at a party. Amidst a cacophony of laughter bouncing of the concrete walls of the treatment unit, high-fives were given, faces were all smiles, and the level of enjoyment of one another--U of O of Phoenix, and Phoenix of U of O--was unprecedented as it was all term.
Perhaps the highlight: after about ten minutes of mingling ("Shaul Time," as we say), I looked around to find the Mayor. It was time to escort her out! I spotted her in the youths' hacky-sack circle, the only adult in that corner of the cavernous room. She was continuing the conversation with one of the Phoenix students who had engaged her in an especially challenging way. I was delighted by the fact that I had to all but pull her from her extended chat with that youth, and out the door with the rest of us.
Friday was truly a celebration and affirmation of our hard work and our most fun session of the Serbu Book Club to date. Thanks to the employees of the Serbu Center and the Phoenix Treatment Program, to Mayor Kitty Piercy, and most of all to my fellow Book Clubbers!
Finally, you've got to know that a Phoenix student designed the above logo! Kudos to Kari O., Jordan W., and very a special Alex D.--a U of O student who has never so much as taken an Inside-Out class, let alone participated in Book Club--for turning it into the finest stickers and posters the Inside-Out community has ever seen!
Former 'outside' student
U of O