Program Directors' spotlight - Christian Landa
That inner voice capable of inspiring someone to speak truth, while simultaneously preventing them because of a string of consequences that may follow: what, or who, is that? Similar to a child debating whether to tell their parents they shattered a dish because they were running through the house, or a young adult concerned with the well-being of a close friend whose negative choices are developing into an affliction, our inner monologues become a spiraled speech gnawing at us constantly and beckoning our intuition to react, yet, some of us hesitate and deem it as inconsequential and unimportant, or otherwise.
I have had countless experiences, inner-conflicts, unwavering conclusions, and unrelenting truths develop because of this coiled cadence, this overwhelming phenomena that will not let up and is not mere conscience, but rather the collective unconscious emerging from dilapidated neighborhoods and decaying hope, immersing itself within my writing and personifying itself as the change in communication that is sorely needed throughout our underserved communities. I am a product of these underserved communities, where “communication” for a single mother or father is stripped down to the basic essentials when addressing their offspring: “It’s time for dinner.” Their energy and vitality must be preserved to communicate to themselves that “my family’s well-being is the only thing that matters…working this round the clock shift is worth my family’s security…” perpetual phrases that inevitably transform into mantras throughout their working day, a change in communication that is all too familiar with the working class, yet ironically is hardly communicated among them and their families.
But what sort of change is that exactly, and more importantly, how does one begin to communicate with themselves genuinely and in an unaltered manner, without concluding that we are simply beguiling ourselves into group think or a conditioned and formulaic pattern; are we right for suppressing and concealing our inner monologue for the sake of security, delaying and avoiding communication with our sons and daughters because, truthfully, this is the dynamics of communication we have consistently been taught while living in impoverished neighborhoods: “Speak when spoken to.” Yet, our inner monologues are communicating something far more vast and critical than we would like to admit; we are being “spoken to,” but we are not responding; we are being asked to communicate to ourselves our wrongful actions and confront the consequences, but we are quick to dismiss that voice because it is a mere figment of our imagination, and that’s the real concern.
By the age of 17, my senior year in high school, I was experiencing poverty and homelessness. My single-mother had recently been denied an extension of her visa, and abruptly she found herself and her family struggling to survive in a city where gang activity and drug abuse run rampant. Not only was my mother responsible for the safety of her 17 year old son, susceptible to gang violence due to a profound and deep-seated resentment against society for the treatment of his mother, but she was also responsible for the security of her 15 year old daughter, who at the time wanted to fit in so bad, she could have been potentially capable of anything to gain status at school. This narrative is unfortunately all too familiar, so I will be sparse in detail.
A couple months into my senior year, I realized that I had no one, not a single individual I could communicate to. I could not communicate to my mother that while my peers were discussing prom and imminent acceptance letters from countless universities, I was actually investing my focus into God, because during that time I had no other choice, and because my mother worked every Sunday, church visits were nil to none. Guidance was beyond our capacity.
Therefore, besides the word, I found refuge in Hip-Hop, where mentors like Guru from Gang-Starr offered mantras that still resonate with me today:
Actions have reactions don’t be quick to judge/
You may not know the hardships people don’t speak of/
It’s best to step back, and observe with couth/
For we all must meet our moment or truth/
I took refuge in literature, where the words of J.D. Salinger’s infamous protagonist Holden Caulfield echoed certain sentiments I had about students at school, and I was grateful that at least one other individual, one other voice, was communicating with me, and to me.
These mentors were alleviating my lack of communication by positioning me to confront truths I would have otherwise subjected to the whims of youth, and possibly avoided altogether. I say this to exemplify the vital importance of mentoring in general. Improve Your Tomorrow (IYT) has become that platform by which I reach these underserved youths who until IYT gave them an opportunity to speak with someone, they might have also chosen not to communicate with anyone at all, suppressing their emotions, and deservedly so. I know this because evening phone calls to discuss self-esteem issues and questions about masculinity are continual and frequent, and I am grateful for them. Mentors, specifically the intuitive members of the IYT staff, family if you ask me, have managed to foster a sense of hope in a trivial and decisive post- civil rights era, continuing the long and arduous tradition of “each one, teach one, young to the old,” forming young men whose steadfast communication is inspiring to say the least. Young men of color who are changing the narrative by becoming the change in communication because they are changing communication altogether: “Speak your truth.”
Speak your truth