IF YOU REALLY KNEW ME
(MTV, Tuesdays nights)
This series follows 'Challenge Day (a movement to create dialogue and break down cliques amongst teenagers) as it travels to high schools across the nation. The show opens with featured students describing their self-appointed clique (nerd, band geek, jock, etc). They describe the social environment in the school and how they interact. A few adults chime in, but the focus is squarely on the kids.
The day opens with a few games and icebreakers to get everyone comfortable with the faces that they'll be seeing for the next few hours. After that, the mediator introduces himself and then literally, steps outside the box. This box is made of pieces of tape placed on the ground, but it symbolizes the cramped space that a lot of the young people are in by force or choice. He goes on to say that 'outside the box is where life really happens.' He opens the floor by talking about his own life, his failures and challenges, allowing all others in the room to feel free to do the same. The kids are separated into small groups and are asked to finishing the following sentence: if you really knew me, you would know…
To speak openly about your fears, to be vulnerable in front of people who may not like/know you takes an immense amount of courage. Listening to these young people tell their stories with trembling voices and streaming tears tells me that we have a generation of youth who are hurting and breaking under the expectations placed upon them by society, family and friends. As each student finishes the sentence, there are no judgments, no advice, just comfort offered by fellow group member who a few minutes prior was likely just another face in the hallway. It was quite a revelation to see a jock, who admitted to tormenting band geeks, put his arm around one who had just confessed to being gay.
The next phase of the challenge is 'The Power Shuffle'; all the students stand on one side of the room, as the announcer calls out an event or gives a description (e.g. 'if you have lost someone to or been a victim of an act of violence), those to whom the words apply will cross a line to the other side and face those remaining who will then hold up the sign language sign for 'I love you' (pointer, pinky and thumb fully extended, with middle and ring finger down.) As everyone looks across the room and to their sides, they realize that they are not alone in their experiences and more so, that there are people who will love and support them. A point was made of a young man who seemingly crossed the line almost every time and as you can see from the example above, walking to the other side of the room meant you had survived or witnessed something traumatic. For this kid to have seen and lived through as much as he had (and still be in school) spoke volumes about his character and guts. There are men and women twice his age that would crack and break under similar circumstances.
Finally, the mediator poses the question, 'what will you do differently?' After all, talk of change is not as important as practicing it. Each student is asked to take the love and learning that they experienced and bring it into the world. At the end of the episode, we witness how some of the 'Challenge Day' students apply the experience to their lives; a couple of students from various cliques decide to hang out together; a jock goes to his football team to address underlying racism; and in another one, a teen courageously reaches out to her visibly uncomfortable father.
Perhaps 'Challenge Day' won't change a generation overnight, but I commend MTV for stepping away from the usual fluff and filler and exposing its audiences to a movement that can have a positive lifelong impact.