December 5, 2009
Trudee Able-Peterson challenged negative stereotypes of youth on the streets in a workshop titled “The Devolution Process: Home to Street and What They Learn on the Way Down” sponsored by the East Side Network Café. Able-Peterson specifically focused on four groups of street youth: gang members, teen parents, drug dealers and sex workers. These youth are almost always portrayed in a negative light, but Able-Peterson argued that, like other youth on the street, these youth have faced barriers or adversity that contributed to their situations.
Able-Peterson led workshop attendees in a shift of viewpoint and probed deep into assumptions about youth in poverty through two simple questions: What barriers do youth face to getting what they need out of their young years? How would you describe a member of each of these four groups using only positive adjectives?
Through these questions, “an appreciation of the gifts of every child replaced some automatic negative assumptions for me,” said workshop attendee and East Side Network Café coordinator Lou Bender. “We hear so much about evil drug dealers and gang members, but we forget that many of these are just young people trying to get by in tough circumstances.”
Able-Peterson also shared her own experience of living on the street as a teenager and of the work she has done as an adult to intervene for the safety and well-being of youth on the streets. “Hearing Trudee’s own story and the stories of youth she works with allowed me to put a human face on people in society that we often see as problems,” said Larissa Ruud, Camp Fire Community Programs Coordinator.
Many workshop attendees said they left the workshop with a new determination to examine their assumptions about disadvantaged youth and to work to provide resources for the good of every child.
The East Side Network Café, a collaborative of youth-serving organizations on the East Side and North End of Saint Paul, operates in partnership with Camp Fire USA Minnesota Council and more than a dozen other agencies with similar goals. The collaborative, and this workshop, are funded by the McKnight Foundation.