I’m a firm believer in not having had to be a participant in an event to empathize with the pain, joy, or trauma of those that were present experienced. It’s something I’d always tried to convey when doing prevention work with middle and high school youth. Particularly, when using historical references for why “isms” and other forms of oppression are detrimental to our culture. I’m not going to lie, teaching youth about anything that isn’t within their purview is challenging. I was often met with, “But that was then, Miss.” or simplistic understandings of the larger issue, “Yeah, racism is bad.” When we finally did begin to pull out the root of my master plan, the “ah ha” moments they’d experience over hearing pieces of history that record humanities ability to harm, was motivation enough to keep drudging through the inevitable, “This is boring, Miss.”
If I were still in the classrooms today, the article I read about Urban Outfitters Kent State University “vintage” sweatshirt would have been slotted in my timeline of current events to discuss. My father is from Ohio, and although he didn’t go to Kent State, he was on the cusp of his teen years when the events at the University happened May 4, 1970. I grew up listening to “Ohio”, by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young along with my father’s recounts of the event. It was weaved into a larger framework of political activism and the right as a citizen to protest the actions of my government. The personal was always political for me when it came to this story, although my only connection is my dad is from the state in which the university resides. With the creation of this sweatshirt the “then” that seems so far removed from youths lives is firmly placed in the “now”.
We work hard to mobilize youth around our prevention efforts, corral them into a unified voice of change. We create campaigns and buttons and an assortment of accouterments to get them to spread our messages. We have our hashtags and our Facebook posts, after all we’re hip to what those youngsters are doing. The dreaded, “This is boring, Miss.” looms over us constantly, but we do our little song and dance to ensure “our” message gets out into the world. So today, when I read that Urban Outfitters $129 sweat shirt sold out, a sweat shirt that makes a mockery of all that work we put into creating social agitators, I knew what “our” message should be today. Don’t lose your history. Don’t let the “then” ever become so distant that you can’t find the “now” in it. We are one military grade tank away from reshaping how youth connect to the larger picture we paint in our prevention work. Don’t forget the little things that are indicative of problems in our culture that contribute to the bigger stories that make the evening news. Most importantly, I find this sweatshirt illustrates, we should never forget to create a space for empathy in everything we do, because if we can’t get youth to connect to the pain and trauma of the events of Kent State, how are we ever going to get them to understand it can happen again.