It was such an honor to speak to and connect with the incredible kids of Emmett Middle School. They are truly some incredible kids, and Kim Landeen and I felt honored to be able to meet them and connect with them. We presented on Friday January 15th to six periods of roughly 15-25 students (around 150 students throughout the day).
The presentation and conversations we had were centered on our Big Ocean Women tenet “We are each unique and worthy of respect.” We were asked to speak on this topic as an initiative by the school to address issues of bullying and better build a culture of inclusivity and compassion. Our goal was to plant a seed of self acceptance and awareness that could blossom into actions from the student body that more reflect respect and appreciation for one another at the school.
As intuitive and simple as this axiom is–“We are each unique and worthy of respect”– it’s oftentimes difficult to remember this truth. It’s easy to compare, to judge ourselves harshly, or internalize our experiences of trauma and project our self loathing onto others. The key is to work through the trauma by giving ourselves grace and understanding, so that we can likewise treat others from a place of similar abundance. The main goal was for the students to recognize their own value, and have that understanding spill over to influence others around them.
We shared a significant quote from accomplished dancer Martha Graham: “There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost.” in summarizing this thought together, we came up with a further refined axiom, “There is only one me. When I don’t allow myself to shine, the world misses out, and it won’t ever be the same.” It was an enlightening realization for all of us: if we don’t let our uniqueness shine, people will miss out!
With the town of Emmett being mostly an agricultural community, one of the shining moments from our discussions was when these students recognized how absolutely cool farmers are. When one young man came in and announced, “I’m not cool, I’m boring,” Kim and I jumped at the opportunity to share our admiration for the invaluable role of farmers, and the specific knowledge they collectively share as an agricultural community, How, because of their many experiences living in an agricultural town, they’ve acquired special knowledge and life skills which are increasingly valuable today. It was something they hadn’t readily recognized or appreciated until we discussed this together. We saw kids smile and inch closer with hands raised eager to share about their animals and land. One young student raised his hand high and shared that he could load bales of hay very quickly. He felt proud of who he was and what he could do. This happened on many occasions with each presentation we gave. It was incredible to see sparks of self-esteem come alive for them.
We played an “I am” exercise with them as they wrote down statements of things they enjoyed doing or were good at. Some students were shy and struggled to come up with statements. It was beautiful to see students jump in to share positive qualities about the other student. They felt seen and heard. There was a strong feeling of gratitude for one another.
Although many of the students were long-time residents of Emmett, we were lucky to connect with kids whose families immigrated there. Some were from Mexico, one from the Philippines, and another fresh from Honduras. It was great to see friends translate for him.
Kim G. Bohne Landeen was an inspired co-mentor, and the kids hung on her every word. She immediately connected with the students as she shared a bit about her adventurous life in Alaska and showed them a picture of a massive Halibut fish she and her husband Allan caught together. The kids all immediately respected such an accomplishment and they all raised their hands when she asked, “who here likes to fish?” It was an immediate connection. They also enjoyed when I showed a picture of my tiny urban garden, and got a kick from my self proclaimed title of “wanna-be gardener.”
Although the school struggles with bullying issues, because of our tenets and culture we were able to address this sensitive topic in an empowering and non-threatening way that really spoke to their hearts. One powerful moment came while we did the “I am” exercise. A young woman struggled to find descriptive words for herself. Her classmates started shouting out wonderful compliments, and she teared up and told them all what it meant to her. There was a tangible feeling of unity and compassion in the room. We learned awesome things about these students, and we all grew closer together.
We were also delighted to meet up with BOW sister Kaloni Jenson, who was one of the leaders who arranged for us to come. We reconnected with her and were enthralled at the many adventures her life has taken and the many ways she is heroically moving forward. She is an incredible leader and organizer, and we are so lucky to have her as a part of us!
One of the greatest takeaways from this experience is that we can all learn to more intentionally love ourselves. This love is the root of how we encounter and interact with each other. There is no greater tool to combat bullying than a confident kid with a generous heart!