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Own the Hyphen

In YP, we are a family not tied together by blood, but by choice. The youth specifically share the experience of living in two cultures. They are Sudanese-American, Ethiopian-American, Tanzanian-American, Vietnamese-American, Napoli-American, and the list goes on.

At home, many of our kids are completely submerged in the culture of their parents. The food, smells, clothing, and language is all reminiscent of the family's country of origin. When you walk into the home of one of our youth, you find it hard to believe you are still in America, much less right outside Atlanta.

But once the youth leave their homes, they are thrown straight into inner-city American culture. What is considered acceptable or cool, as far as wardrobe, shoes, and language, completely changes.

At home, maybe you wear no shoes and traditional clothing. At school, you better have the best Nikes or Adidas with the right jeans and haircut. You may have friends that speak the same native tongue as you, but you also need to know formal English for school as well as American teen slang for peers.

You can imagine the complexity of jumping back and forth between two worlds more than once a day. It makes my head spin just to think about it. Growing up in the suburbs in a caucasian family, I don't share this experience with the youth. When I think of the times I have experienced culture shock, all I can do is respect the youth of Clarkston who are so gifted at navigating so many different cultures at once.

What is so special about YP is that we are all jumping back and forth between worlds together. If you're Sudanese at home and American at school, you can confidently be Sudanese-American at after-school or summer camp. YP is a place where third-culture kids (kids who grow up in a different culture than their parents creating a mix of their parent and host cultures) can own their hyphen. It's ok to wear your best Nikes and listen to Ethiopian music. It's fun to wear traditional clothes while you eat pizza. It's normal to mix your Arabic and English when you're telling a story.

It's easy to grow up too fast and get lost in the shuffle of an overcrowded school and busy little city. We hope and pray that what YP becomes for the youth is a safe space for kids to be kids. A space to be known and loved for who you are at your core. A space to be with other kids who can help you travel between your worlds. A space to own your hyphen.

Annalisa KeipertComment