I've had some incredible experiences at ElevArte. In four and a half years, I've gone from being an intern to the We Are Hip Hop Youth Festival Instructor and now, the Youth and Special Events Manager. In retrospect, my ElevArte journey has been a wild one! I am perpetually grateful for all the opportunities ElevArte has given me but I am most appreciative of the youth for all they have taught me:
1. Food is a BAE
A 15-minute break for some youth means, sprint to Benny’s Pizza as fast as possible for a slice of pizza. For others, it means, homemade organic smoothies. Food takes high-priority here for the youth and after seeing their various eating habits, I started to be more conscious of what I consumed. Our youth truly helped me realize the importance of well-being and balance in life.
2. Love Your Self(ies)
If you feel confident and positive about yourself, don't be ashamed to share it with the world! The majority of my news feed is filled with student selfies. I respect them for their courage to post photos. Self-love is just as important as any other relationship in your life.
3. Keep it 100!
Youth tell it like it is: "Your fly is down!" Or, "Wow, you're a great public speaker!" Youth are unafraid to speak their mind. They are amazing at giving and receiving constructive criticism and when you return the respect and honesty, they excel and achieve more. I've learned to always "keep it 100" with others and myself; it's how we can raise the bar.
4. Just Go With It
During my first year of teaching, I would arrive to program with meticulous lesson plans. Occasionally, lesson plans don't work out. Many reasons play into this: students get sick, the Internet is down, surprise visitors, etc. Guidelines are great, but if I am bound to my lesson plans I'll have a nervous breakdown. Flexibility and improvisation is essential so I've learned to just go with it.
5. They Got My Back
Sure, teaching and planning events can be stressful. When I am completely consumed by my work, my personality gets overshadowed. In times like these, students turn to me and say, "Relax, I got this!" Usually, it's followed by a joke or a silly dance but I know that I can really depend on them in times of need. ElevArte youth are a constant reminder to laugh and stick together as a team in stressful times.
6. Everyone has a struggle, YOU are not alone
Growing up in Chicago can be rough. Some youth experience challenges that are difficult to overcome: losing family or friends, exposure to gangs and gun violence, experiencing homelessness and racism. Time and time again, students share these emotional stories amongst their peers and their ability to do so is admirable. They have taught me courage, compassion and empathy through shared stories, tears and hugs. More importantly, I've learned that we all have a story to share and although negative circumstances occur in our lives they do not define us.
7. "It Takes A Village"
I used to think it was my responsibility to empower every single student that walked into my program, mentoring and deeply imparting wisdom and might. Then I realized I couldn't connect with all students, it wasn't only up to me to teach our youth. Their success depends on the investment of everyone in the community, it's the only way to truly show youth that we care and want them to succeed.
What have young people taught you? Do you have a lesson that needs to be added to the list? Let us know in the comments below.
Lizette Garza, is a recent graduate from Columbia College Chicago where she received a Bachelor of Arts in Music Business. Lizette first joined ElevArte’s staff in 2010 when she was the recipient of the Kemper Internship. She has gone on to teach with our After School Matters teen programs, Promo Pros, has headed the coordination of the Dia de Muertos public event since 2011 and most recently was the lead teaching artist for the We Are Hip Hop Youth Festival.