“Get the [expletive deleted] away from us! You’re so [expletive deleted] weird! We don’t want you here!”
We could hear the heckles of preteens from outside of our window. Children cussing in the neighborhood isn’t something new, but hearing aggressive language aimed directly at one person is unexpected. We look down from our patio and saw a skinny 10-year-old girl with beautiful brown skin and bright eyes. The look on her face told us that she’s used to this type of behavior.
“Hey man, that’s not cool,” said my husband. Luckily, the heckler respected him and apologized. To which, my husband [Victor] responds with: “You need to apologize to her, not me.” The heckler mumbled an apology under his breath, took his soccer ball, and played in another direction.
The girls came to our patio, a safe space in the neighborhood, to draw with chalk and play with our 2-year-old daughter. Our beautifully brown, skinny 10-year-old started drawing a bright blue cross on the door. I asked, “Mija, why are you drawing that?”
“I don’t know. I decided to draw the first thing I could think of. I like God, so I drew this.”
My husband and I seized the opportunity to talk about the incident while she was drawing on our patio. “Mija,” I said, “I heard the mean things that boy said to you earlier.”
“Oh. That.” She said with a sad tone and distracted mind, “I’m used to it. Sometimes they throw rocks at my window and steal things from our patio.”
“That’s not right,” said my husband, “You don’t deserve to be treated like that.”
“We know,” said her friend in a defiant tone, “but they always do that.”
These girls carried the weight of someone else’s problems on their shoulders. They proudly talked about how they don’t let the bullying of their neighbors get to them. Yet, we could sense the hurt in their voices and the sadness they tried to wipe off their faces. These girls needed someone to know them and to tell them how important they are. They were crying out for recognition.
“Do you know what I love about God?” I asked, “I love how much he loves us. And how important you both are to him.”
My husband and I opened up about being bullied and realizing that our preciousness to God is more important than everything else. The girls listened while they drew.
After a few minutes of coloring on our patio, the girls left to go to their respective homes. We thanked them for visiting and wished them good night.
The exchange didn’t feel like a victory. We were hoping the girls would receive our every word and become empowered through knowing how precious they are to God. That didn’t happen. Instead, they quipped at us and showed us how sharp their tongues can be too.
In this we’ve learned that victory is in the small things: a safe space, open conversation, and knowing that bullied children can come to us for comfort & snacks. We’re reminded that persistence, perspective, and patience are the 3 key pillars of empowering our neighbors to overcome the odds and opinions of others. Conversations like this may not seem like a victory today, but they’re planting seeds of empowerment for tomorrow and the days to come.
– Camille and Victor Hernandez
Neighborhood Development, Valencia Park
Camille and Victor Hernandez, and their daughter Ari, have purposefully moved into one of the apartment neighborhoods just down the block from Valencia Park Elementary School where we provide our United Kids After-School Program at Valencia Park Elementary School. In addition to providing academic support and a place for children to go at the end of the school day, United Kids provides a trauma-informed learning environment with built in mentorship for each student. However, support doesn’t end on campus. They build relationships with the parents of the children, providing support and resources in order to full scaffold around the family.
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