Will Keeps’ deep desire is to provide a safe space for at risk youth to receive mental health, spiritual and educational resources. He knows first-hand how the trajectory of someone’s life is dramatically changed when safety and emotional support are lacking. Ala said it well when he mentioned the “body comfort” he experiences at Starts Right Here. He told me he felt at home and he didn’t have to worry. For many of Will’s students, simply having a physical place to call home is non-existent. Just think about that for a moment. What if you didn’t know where you were going to sleep tonight or get something to eat. Studying for a test at school would be the least of your worries. Will says that “when a student’s outside world is messed up, their focus is survival.”
Maria was so articulate about how she felt about the shooting at her school. She described a dark place and feeling pushed into a corner; feelings so intense that she attempted suicide. Before her experience at Starts Right Here, I’m not sure Maria would have had awareness of her feelings let alone the ability to express them so well. In reflecting on my time with Will, I have learned the importance of conversation, both talking and listening. This sounds so simple, but I would suggest many of us are not truly present in the vast majority of conversations we have each day. If I’m not tuned into the words, inflection, facial expression and physical demeanor of the person I’m interviewing, I’ll likely miss important details or not ask a follow-up question that reveals deep insight.
Every episode exposes a belief held by our guest that can stand on its own as a really big, game-changing concept. Will is fully committed to making progress for the benefit of his community. And he tells us that we can’t let disagreements stop progress. He is incredibly clear that we can ALWAYS find points of agreement and move forward. Will demonstrates his philosophy everyday with students, politicians, donors, friends and family. I’ve taken his approach to heart.
Since producing Will’s episode, the school experienced a great tragedy. Two pairs of SRH students (each pair from a rival gang) had been feuding both in-person and on social media. One of those students arrived at school armed and shot and murdered his two rival classmates. Will was also shot (not intentionally) and has since recovered. I learned of the shooting within an hour and it appeared on national news that evening. I waited several hours, which seemed like days, before calling Will’s wife. How could this violence penetrate the walls of a safe place designed to help at-risk youth? I was worried Will would feel defeated or worse yet fearful. I should have known better! He’s more committed than ever to educate the community about why violence occurs and what can be done to stop it. God bless Will Keeps!
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