I started this conversation on here for several reasons. I felt it was important to highlight the complexity of the situation. As the conversation continues it becomes more and more obvious that most avenues have been attempted for these specific children at one time or another, that something drastic needs to happen, but that we also are not quite sure what exactly that “something” is. I can see a true concern for these children along with a frustration in not knowing what to do in many comments people have made in this discussion. I know how easy it is to become overwhelmed by the size of the problem when we focus on it, and especially when “solutions” seem to be far and wide. Yesterday I was reminded again of a powerful tool for change.
I went to the Southern Ink Exposure Tattoo Convention last night. Wildfire Tattoo , where I get my work done, is hosting the event and it is the first Tattoo Convention of this caliber to be held on African soil. There are artists from all over the world. It is truly an amazing experience and I would recommend anybody, whether you like tattoos or not, to try and make it out to the convention! Anyways, I had a couple of conversations at the convention that were very important reminders for me. The first conversation was with Tyler Murphy. Tyler used to work at Wildfire but has recently gone out on his own and opened his own studio, Sins of Style . He excitedly greeted me last night when I saw him.
The last time I saw Tyler was smack dab in the middle of my 16 days on the streets. I was walking around one early morning, waiting for Crippie to open. I remember that morning because I did not have enough money to buy a cup of coffee, vital for my “wakeup routine”, AND soup so I was just walking around like a zombie and hoping for a caffeine intervention. Just when I thought my cause to get coffee was impossible I bumped into Tyler sitting outside a little café on Long Street. I stopped and chatted. He told me about his new tattoo studio he had just opened, and because of the “state” I was in (unkept, dirty, smelly, hairy face, etc.) the topic of my time on the streets arose naturally. Without me having to ask, or express my desperation for coffee, he offered to buy me some. Sigh of relief. We then sat and chatted over coffee and talked in great depths about my time on the streets, the reason I was doing it, and the current situation of children on the streets. He was a great audience!
So last night when I bumped into him he excitedly asked me how the rest of my time on the streets went and how I had adjusted back to “normal” life. Then he said, “You don’t know how much that conversation that we had impacted me that day! I couldn’t get it out of my mind! I have continued our conversation with so many people. You would not believe how many people I have talked to about it! You really achieved what you were trying by starting conversations!”. Tyler simply reminded me of one really important “solution”: awareness. People cannot make a difference in something they don’t know, or don’t care, about but by simply starting conversations, and feeding important information to people, we are educating them of the problem, and laying down a foundation of awareness to build real and lasting change. For Tyler, our conversation seemed to be tattooed on his mind and heart and he will not soon forget it.
I also had a conversation with a group of artists from Kansas City. We had the normal back and forth about where we are from in the States, and then they were asking what I was doing here and for how long. When they heard I work with the kids in town the one girl brokenheartedly spoke about one of the younger kids that they bumped into on Long Street. I knew who he was based on her description. I expected to hear the typical “foreigner response” about the “cute little kid” that she gave a bunch of money to, but it was nothing like that. She said she could see he was hyped up on drugs and her heart broke for him. She said she felt like “picking him up, taking him away from that reality and taking care of him”; her sentiments coming very close to some of the “solutions” that we have come to in the discussion about these kids. She felt it was wrong to allow a child to be in that place, and that a child addict should not be treated as an adult and something had to happen before he literally kills himself in his cycle of self destruction. I could see that the image of his face was tattooed on her mind and heart!
These conversations were refreshing for me! They did not bear fruit of amazing solutions to the problem we face, but they were a reminder of one simple thing: we cannot be overwhelmed by the “problem” and have to focus on simple, achievable “solutions” for these kids. And as we continue to seek long term, sustainable and permanent solutions for them, I am reminded that one very simple, doable solution is to merely continue with conversations. Because these informed conversations lead to an awareness. Information is power. And based on this informed awareness of the general public, we are able to build true and lasting change in the greater structure and in the lives of these children. We have to come to a point where a vast majority of society feels strongly that it is wrong to allow children to live on the streets. Once this simple belief is tattooed in the minds and hearts of many, I believe that we will begin to see real and lasting change come!