This is the story of how a little boy named Victor completely outstripped me as a fearless trailblazer of neighborhood connecting… and reminded me to give kids more credit for being alert, capable leaders in community.
It all started last year, when I and some lovely people were painting a door with other people as part of a SRQ Connects, a Sarasota-based project that uses world cafe gatherings to build local community. We were set up outside my house in Gillespie Park neighborhood, the door sitting on two saw-horses, off to the side of my rented home’s shady shared driveway.
As we worked, a little boy and his dad began walking by. We greeted them and exchanged introductions–they were Victor and Victor (Senior and Junior).
Victor Jr, a boy of about 8 with a round-face, bright eyes and bouncy long black curls, was immediately drawn to the door, paint, and evolving pictures. He asked with urgent curiosity– “What are you doing?” When we explained we’re doing an art project, his eyes lit up. We soon learned he loves art. So we invited him to add his artwork to the door. He drew a big heart in black paint, and a person, and the words “I love you” in one pane of the door. It added so much to our collective artpiece!
As we painted together, I mentioned to Victor Jr. that day that I was so glad to meet him, because I’m interested in meeting other artists in the neighborhood. My interest stems from my work in Asset Based Community Development and my passion around “walking” this lovely philosophy of inside-out change by forging strong, caring, and creative bonds with and among the people who live in my neighborhood.
As I told him of my quirky desire to meet neighborhood artists, I had no reason to imagine that this meant anything to Victor. But about a year later, he surprised me. One day I was walking down same driveway with my friend Zach, headed out to Gillespie Park for a jog. I heard someone call my name. It was Victor, running out to catch me.
“April April! I have something to tell you!”
“What is it, Victor?”
“You remember how you told me you want to meet other artists in your neighborhood? Well I met one the other day! He lives just down the street over here. Come on I want to introduce you to him!”
“Oh…” I blurted, trying to remember when I’d told him that and processing the fact that he had remembered… and was now doing it himself! “Cool!” I yelled out as I grabbed Zach and we hurried behind Victor, who was already walking ahead town the other side of the driveway toward 6th St.
Not five minutes after we began following Victor, his big sister began calling his name from behind us. She asked where he was going and told him he had to go home right now.
“OK!” He called back, then turned back to us. “Well, I gotta go home now. But he lives right down there– you see the white house with the porch? Yeah that one. Just go down there and knock on the door, I know he’ll be happy to meet you!”
At 8 years old, Victor is one of the only people I’ve met who seems even less nervous about stepping across the general taboos surrounding neighbor-meeting than myself (and a few other neighborhood pioneers I’ve met). I was truly astounded and touched that Victor not only a. remembered what I said to him, literally about a year ago, b. took action to toward that idea of meeting other neighborhood artists completely on his own, but c. pulled me into the loop with great confidence and decisiveness.
To me, this experience was a powerful reminder never to forget how kids and youth are way more aware, capable, and ready to act for community improvement (and adventure) than we usually give them credit for.
What are ways that you have been jolted into having greater respect for kids and their leadership powers in community or small groups? If you are a kid or ‘youth,’ what are strengths or talents that you have that adults sometimes ignore in you?