I was lucky enough to attend a conference last week with my mother who came along after I mentioned two of the presenters I had heard before and I had thought were very, very good.
The topics, teenage kids and issues, were relevant to me as a teacher and Head of Year but would also be interesting to her as ‘Nanna’ to three very fast approaching teen girls.
The conference covered a number of issues we face with young adults. These included;
- Sleep deprivation
- Body image
- Over scheduling our children
- Drugs and alcohol
- Gambling in our young people
- Racism and hate
This last one, racism and hate was a powerful session. I am going to give you a run down.
Just like in the entertainment world, or when watching a show or event, the 10 minute warning bell rang. Mum and I dashed to the toilet, again! Oh and while I am on the subject of the toilet, why is there never a line outside the male toilets???
We took our seats in the big hall at the University of Queensland, a room I had not been in since I had graduated from University, and waited for the MC to introduce the next speaker. Little did I know that it would be Alpha Cheng and another male referred to as ‘Matt’.
Now I didn’t remember the story behind Alpha Cheng, my mother did and she was quick to re-cap the series of events that would have changed his life immensely. In October 2015 Alpha’s father was shot from behind by a boy aged 15 outside the police headquarters in Paramatta. What a day this would have been for him and his family.
Alpha spoke to us about his personal story and how he had chosen not to hate. It would not have been an easy thing to do as you stand at the crossroads I am sure, grief, sorrow, anger and much much more twisting around inside your head and your heart. It would have been easy to hate and to then become part of what could have been a huge series of events promoting this hate, maybe even riots, protests and potentially more deaths. However, he chose not to hate. Alpha, has in the past years since his fathers death taken it upon himself to guide others, to tell his story. To focus on racism and extremism which does exist in our society and even broader than that, our world.
I related to what Alpha had been saying as I had lived in a muslin country, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for four years and truly loved it. To then be working behind a bar in Australia, while at University, and have listen to a few older men discuss the ‘Muslim’ community as a whole, without considering the ramifications and possible implications of their opinions, if heard by the wrong person. I remember listening to them go on and on, their racial comments and bias becoming worse. Eventually I walked upto them, cleaning away their empty glasses and I said; “Can I ask if any of you have ever lived in a Muslim country? Been to a school with a number of cultures? ate dinners with them and celebrated Ramadam and the evening feast with their families?”. They looked at me shocked, the answer obviously being ‘no’. So I proceeded to tell them, politely and with enthusiasm, about the most amazing four years of my life. The culture, the people and how they had just sat there and stereotyped one race in all but 10 minutes. They had begun to ‘hate’, without realising they had boxed an entire race into maybe one persons actions. I think they never sat near the bar and discussed race again while I was at work.
In fact over time they gravitated back to the bar and slowly became interested in hearing more and listening to how amazing the experiences I had had while living in the UAE. After all all three of them had never left Australia.
Its a powerful message – learning not to hate. I know this as when my daughter was little and still sometimes now as a 12 year old she will come home and say “I hate this person….” or “? I hate class..”. I have always, since she learned to walk and talk responded with, ‘hate’ is a powerful word and we should be careful to use it at any time. We don’t hate, we don’t have time to hate and she should learn to understand what the word means.
Alpha Cheng was followed by a guy who was introduced to us at ‘Matt’, he is from EXIT Australia. If you do not know what that is, its worth having a look at. Matt works with people who need major interventions and help when things go wrong.
Matt told us his story, a very powerful one at that. Centered around hate as well, however, very different to the story of Alpha Cheng. Matt was brought up in a family, or more like a ‘cult’ were his words. He was brought up with the mindset that all, and I mean all Asians were bad. They were not to be trusted and if anything they were meant to be hurt, beaten and at times something worse. Matt was not only brought up within this angry and hateful home but he was also raped, repeatedly by his sister.
Matt grew up angry and had a very different school life to what our children do. He was locked in a box at his school, a small window was all he had to see through. The teacher and principal used to walk pass this box and kick it, I couldn’t even imagine this!
As you can imagine Matt needed a way to vent his anger, he did this through becoming a gang member. He had two gangs, one where he attended school and the other where he lived. These gangs were his delegates, he had one group who were not so violent to do the simple tasks, the other group had violent tendencies, all a product of their upbringing. It was this group that were involved in the violent encounters that Matt described.
It was at this point, the room silent, that he told us how it all changed.
He was lying on the ground getting his head kicked in, dropping in and out of consciousnesses, fearing that this was the end, when someone came to his rescue. This someone was an Asian.
He said, at that moment, he realised that what he had been brought up to believe was in fact not true. He had an epiphany, a light bulb moment, as this man, a man who he had been brought up believing was evil, helped him.
Since then Matt has lead an extraordinary life, using his life experiences, his past and also all that he knows to help people who have experienced and are experiencing what he did. Matt has since worked closely with law enforcement and other agencies to work his way into existing gangs and try to redirect or reach out to the members, to try and redirect their focus. To help them as he was helped.
Matt has gone from being a violent gang member to being a member of the Popes security. How unbelievable is that!
As mum and I listened to his story, after that of Alpha Chengs we were totally in awe of how these two men had had such vastly different lives and had survived. Not only survived but had not given into the hatred, the racism and what could have been a totally different mind set. Both chose to use their anger, sadness and everything else to help others. Both skilled in different ways but both with amazing things to offer.
I had goosebumps throughout their speeches. What exceptional people. We forget sometimes how easy it is to fall into the depression, anger and hate we may feel when something happens to us or our families. We think by channeling this hate and anger we can get retribution, revenge and eventually peace. Well after hearing these two speak and having been through a series of life events myself I understand that hate, while easy to do, is not the answer. Hope and forgiveness are!
So from all of this you are probably wondering what on Earth is my message. Well here it is;
Be sure not to jump to ‘hate’, take the 24 hours, the necessary breaths and be sure to consider how that hate may actually look. Will it at the end of the day bring you peace?
I can guarantee it won’t.
Forgive, while this may take some time, forgive, heal and move on.
You will be a better person for it. I promise!