Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Cost of Freedom

Janine Harouni
Final Event Blog

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a showing and discussion of the documentary “The Boys of Baraka.” This film was about a handful of Baltimore boys living in the inner-city. They were all hand picked by a special program to study abroad in Africa for two years from the 7th to 8th grades in preparation for high school. The goal of this program was to take bright students who were at high risk of not graduating high school because of personal and environmental complications. The idea is that by taking students out of the harsh circumstances of drug use, broken homes, poverty, and crime and placing them in an educational and encouraging environment the children would be set on the right track. The Baraka Program gave these boys the opportunity to be exactly that- boys.

So often in inner-city areas children are not able to be children. While working with choice tutoring this semester I worked with children who had their innocence stolen from them at such a young age. I once asked a student if she had fun trick-or-treating. She looked at me in total shock. “Are you crazy” she asked “I would get shot if I walked around my neighborhood at night.” I just sat their in disbelief. How could an eleven or twelve year old not celebrate Halloween? Why is it that I had that opportunity? Is it just because I was lucky enough to be born into an upper middle class family in a good neighborhood? She and I did nothing to deserve our roles in life. Yet, she must suffer?

These were exactly the issues the movie touched on. After one year in Baraka the boys traveled back home for summer break. Immediately there was a noticeable difference in the boys’ behavior. Most stayed inside anxious to get back to the Baraka School. They were all aware that in just one year so many of their friends had become “trouble.” One scene showed a Baraka student staring out his window observing a group of boys no older than he. “Drug dealers” he remarked quietly to himself “all drug dealers.” Later that summer they learned that due to tension in Africa the Baraka school was being shut down and the boys would have to finish their 8th grade in Baltimore. “Sending our kids to school in Baltimore is sending them to jail” one mother exclaimed when she heard the news.

Her reaction may seem dramatic to some but after working with juvenile offenders in Baltimore this semester I can whole heartedly agree with this mother. According to the movie “61 percent of Baltimore's African-American boys fail to graduate from high school and 50 percent of them go on to jail.” Just tonight at Choice I spoke a boy turning 17 this month. When I asked him what he wanted for Christmas he paused for a moment. “To be free” he said. He has spent his past three Christmases and birthdays in jail.

I went home and thought about what he had told me. I plan to stay involved with programs like Choice as long as I possibly can. I think that I am so lucky to have been born into a loving, encouraging, and safe environment. Too often people take that for granted. Choice has opened my eyes to the social justice issues that prey on the most defenseless of Americans- children. All I can do is treat the symptoms for now and continue my education so I can one day work to cure the cause. And this year I will share my Christmas wish with that tutee and hope that each child in America has the opportunity to be truly free.

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