“I wanted my poem to be, like, inspiring, ya know? For other girls. Cuz they gotta learn, but also it’s not always gonna be easy. So I changed my poem a little bit from my own story. Like, with a happier ending and a mom who was there and wanted to help. But that’s not how it was for me. Me—I was almost about to get kicked back in the system. Shit, I could’ve lost my baby.”
Jasmine* is 17 years old. She is a mother and a high school student. In our all-female classroom she is one of the older students, ranging from 8-12th grade. The poem she just shared was vulnerable, raw, and real. Each of Jasmine’s peers have similar stories. Many are also mothers. Today, there is a baby in our class. Throughout the hour this 10 month-old is bounced and breastfed. Before class ends she has fallen asleep in her mother’s arms. When she gets fussy it goes by without comment or causing distraction, all attention remains eagerly on our topic of discussion. Clearly these young women are well-seasoned in the art of mother-tasking.
Jasmine continues, “But me, like, I always know God’s looking out for me. God’s always got my back. So that day I was praying, and I got three signs, so I knew, and that’s the day I met Faith!” (Faith*, her best friend is seated beside her.) Faith and her mom seriously saved me. They took me in. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Girls gotta know.”
Faith pitches in, “Yeah, like, you know….you’re just trying to get on the bus. And your baby is asleep but the bus driver always makes you fold up your stroller, so you gotta take her out, and then you got all your stuff in the stroller, so you gotta take that out too…meanwhile everyone on the bus waiting is lookin’ at you and glaring at you like, “WTF!”
All the girls nod their head in agreement. Yes, yes. Every time.
Every bus driver.
We return to discussing Jasmine’s poem. She concludes, “Anyway—this poem, or story or whatever, definitely isn’t how it was for me. That’s why I changed the character too. But maybe other girls could learn something.”
Jasmine is not “legally” an adult. Often when she is speaking I have to remind myself that she is a teenager, still so young, yet possessing a self-assurance and wisdom far beyond her years. Then abruptly she’ll break into a girlish peal of laughter and flip back her long brunette hair with the nonchalant cool only an adolescent could pull off as she sits snacking on a bag of Doritos. I am equally grateful for these glimpses of her youthful demeanor, happy to see her for just a moment unencumbered with the burdens of adulthood.
It has been my privilege to spend a few classroom hours with Faith and Jasmine as a visiting artist. Always, it seems, the desk tables are turned, and the real student is me. Despite her own arguably challenging circumstances, Jasmine’s focus is not one of complaint or regret, her artistic expression in poetry today bears no bitterness. Rather than raising an outcry about what she deserves or is owed, instead of expecting someone else to make it better for her, she has created something beautiful to make life better for others.
This week Jasmine taught me what tenacity and resiliency truly look like. In mere hours, I learned more about self-sufficiency, sisterhood, and HOPE from the stories and sage street advice of a classroom of young women than I have from decades of life-living.
You want to see some real Pussy Power? Walk the shoes of a teenage mom. Want to see some real strength, witness real beauty? Sit on the bus seat beside her. Better yet, help her as she folds up her stroller then offer up your seat.
It is for Jasmine, it is for every woman, it is for every human: my soul kin, that I show up, speak out, stand forward. It is for my sisters and peers that I will continue to march and motivate and make. Make beautiful things. Make art and theatre, engage in dialogue and galvanize relationships that alchemize and blossom our world-stage into one of peace and harmonious creation.
It is for Jasmine, for my mother, for my brothers that I will continue to make motions that inspire this nation to be a place full of Faith—in each other and in our governing institutions. Because dignity, equality, safety, representation, and support for organizations like Planned Parenthood are not trivial “novelties” or points of argument, they are rights.
I invite, implore, and challenge our Presidency, Congress, and elected officials, to take a page from the lines of a 17 year-old girl’s poem.
Change the story.
Make it better.
Make it inspiring.
Make it right.
image c/o Shepard Fairey
*names have been changes for anonymity