Guardians of the Galaxy: Uncovering the strengths of youth in foster care
The Guardians of the Galaxy (GotG) are a band of outcasts in a constant state of transition. Moving galaxy to galaxy, they search for the main character, Star-Lord’s, father. They embrace their mobility and are forced to adapt to their new surroundings. The Guardians all share a history of isolation and abandonment and have an unspoken language that binds them together. The understanding that they've walked the same path provides a familiar, non-judgmental space where they can let their guard down and embrace their heritage. One of my favorite lines from the film says it best, "You can fool yourself and everyone else, but you can’t fool me. I know who you are.”
This is a mirror image of what youth experience at Peace4Kids. Similarly, you can hear the words, “We know who you really are,” echoed through our halls. Often arriving quiet, introverted and filled with doubt, they are well aware of the negative statistics around Foster Care. Who isn’t?
Fast forward a few months, or perhaps only few weeks, and we witness a complete 180 degree shift in our young folks' energy. Honed by their unique experience of moving frequently and adjusting to new surroundings/new people, their PERCEPTIVITY and ADAPTABILITY bring forth opportunities to learn about each other, and in turn about themselves.
As Guardians of the Galaxy opens, we are quickly reminded of the childhood trauma that Star-Lord experienced - both watching his mother die and being abducted and raised by a ravager named Yondu. Star-Lord’s journey begins with a longing to know his father, and ends with their ultimate reunification. Through this journey, the Guardians never leave his side. Their LOYALTY is the tie that bonds them. Even when Star-Lord claims to have “Finally found my family” Gamora simply replies “I thought you already had.” Having been abandoned and rejected, they understand the pain and impact of dismissive relationships and vow to stick together to the bitter end. There is no judgment, and no one is looking to change the other. There’s an openness and an understanding - an EMPATHY of epic proportions.
Empathy is the through-line of GotG. The character Mantis can literally feel what everyone is feeling, and although painful, she chooses to use her powers for good. This representation of empathy struck the biggest chord for me - as I am in constant awe of the empathy that our youth possess.
"How are these super-powers” you may ask? Perhaps a quick example will resonate...
Shortly after Peace4Kids one Saturday, my phone rang. It was Raquine, a teen in our Leadership program, and a great friend. In full disclosure, he treated me to GotG on opening night and provided lots of insight for this blog. Thanks brother!
Now to set the stage, we just got done with a great program day filled with fun, laughter and connectivity.
Phone rings. I answer.
“Hey it’s Raquine. Are you ok?”
“Yeah, I’m good. Why do you ask,”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure. What’s up?”
“I don’t know man. It just felt like you were in pain today. That something was really bothering you.”
“Yeah man. Everything is cool. Thanks for checking in on me.”
But he wasn’t having it.
“Are you sure, sure? Like, is everything ok with your family? What’s going on?”
Strange question. My family lives on the east coast, and Raquine has only met them a couple times. hmmmmm. Let me stop and think for a second. “Is everything ok with my family?” ...well NO actually, my parents just told me last night that they are getting divorced (after 35 years of marriage). No. Indeed I am not ok. But wait, I haven’t even started to process that...and I definitely didn’t bring that energy to Peace4Kids. Or did I? How could he have possibly known that something was so wrong? What the....
“Actually. You’re right man. I guess I am in pain. I was just pushing it away. My parents told me last night that they’re getting divorced. Crazy that you could feel that from me. Wow."
With that, Raquine let me know that I didn’t have to talk about it. That he understood what I was going through and that if/when I needed him he was there.
Now, if this was a one-off experience, then I’d say “maybe he got lucky." But Raquine is notorious for this, and collectively, our youth display this type of empathy/perceptivity on an ongoing basis.
This “mirror” that they hold up for me (and the community) continues to provide valuable insight. Spending the last 4 years with our youth has inspired me to embrace trauma and to recognize the strengths that come from it. They’ve pushed me to become a better person, and a better friend. My life has changed dramatically and without them, I don’t know who I would be. For that, I am eternally grateful.
The world may not be ready to look in the mirror, as trauma and pain are difficult to face. Perhaps if we embrace our young folks' strengths and acknowledge their collective power - we too can heal from our past, lift each other up, and recognize the superheroes that walk among us.