Andy is a trainer and board member of Ho’ala Foundation for Education dba Awakening Wisdom. His life is a reflection of Awakening Wisdom’s “why” as you will see from this article he wrote.
The Power Of Belief
“I know I mean something in this world now.”
Twenty years ago, a group of inner-city students I worked with introduced me to “The Rose That Grew From Concrete” by Tupac Shakur. It is a collection of poetry that fits well alongside my humble library of books focused on the human condition – the sorrows and the joys of our journeys. Reading the quote above brought me back to those students as I witnessed another rose struggling to break through, reaching for the sun.
We had just wrapped up 8 weeks of empowerment group sessions at a local middle school, and students were responding to a question about their evolving self-belief over the course of the experience. That’s where the quote came from. And quite possibly the key to this transformation came in the words of another student:
“Andy believed in me even when I didn’t.”
On day 1, each student looked at me like I was crazy when I talked about unconditional love and unwavering belief. I could see it in their eyes. People didn’t talk to them like this.
It was clear that for the most part they wanted to be successful in school, but something was getting in the way. And they didn’t know what it was. Initially, they certainly didn’t understand how this fluffy love stuff was going to help.
For some, they knew if they worked hard, they could be successful, yet they struggled to put the pieces together. For others, they simply didn’t know how to be successful or even what “success” meant. Somewhere along the way they became derailed, detached, and, to some degree, despondent. I could see why once they began to open up about incarcerated and deceased parents, poverty, drugs, gang violence…
School to them seemed a burden and they were in survival mode. When asked about the emotions they felt at school, the most common responses were anger, sadness, and stress. In fact, 75% of the responses revealed negative emotions.
The unfortunate reality is these numbers track all too closely with a 2020 study by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and the Yale Child Study Center, which found that nearly 75% of students’ self-reported feelings related to school were negative.  And it is not just students. Widely available data indicate teachers are more stressed than ever.  Not surprisingly, research has also shown correlations between teacher stress and student stress. 
We can all talk on and on about why this is. These days a lot of people like to pin these things on social media, the pandemic, breakdowns in school discipline…
Yet, by simply showing up each week and providing unconditional love and support, the students grew in their ability to share their experiences of trauma with each other and their hopes of healing. Although I can’t say in 8 weeks they were clearly able to bring newly acquired skills back to the classroom, in group the students were simply amazing.
Yes, it is true I wasn’t giving them homework. I wasn’t asking them to do arduous academic tasks. And they were getting out of class. But I did ask them to be vulnerable and stretch their social/emotional skills together, and they did. Not only were they able to do this in group amazingly well, when a tragedy struck the school in the suicide of a classmate, the culture we created together in group paved the way for the students to rally around each other in loving support.
In their own words, the group helped because:
· I can talk about my problems and emotions.
· I get to hear from other kids like me.
· I feel I can trust the group.
· It helps release the burden on me.
Looking back on the group and our “curriculum,” I recall near the end of one particularly powerful session, I asked each of them if they’d stand up and shake hands with the others in the group and give an offering of peace. Again, at first, they glanced at me like I was a little crazy. And then in unison, almost as if to a choreographed dance, they stood and shared in a wonderful moment of peace and love. When they sat back down, I had a simple question for them: Why when you go to class do you so often get sent to the office, yet in this group you do everything so easily and with care? A young man sitting right by my side looked me in the eye and said:
“Because you respect us. You believe in us.”
I realize a lot more goes into educating our youth than just having belief. I understand there are complexities and differences of opinion. And I’m not placing blame on anyone. I only know what I know. This year I met 12 wonderful young people with a hard road ahead of them. I showed them love and respect in a culture of responsibility, and they gave it back to me. I only hope I have more opportunities to continue to show them and other students – I believe in them, and they mean something in this world.
 National survey: Students’ feelings about high school are mostly negative, by Brita Belli,
January 30, 2020.
 Teachers Are Not OK, Even Though We Need Them to Be, by Madeline Will, September 14, 2021.
 How Teachers’ Stress Affects Students: A Research Roundup, by Sarah D. Sparks, June 07, 2017.