Maker Jawn is a predominantly youth-serving maker space that operates in libraries in North Philadelphia.
I live here. I’ve made great friends here and I appreciate my neighbors. That said, North Philly has some very real problems. More than 900 people died of opioid-related overdoses in 2016 alone. Philadelphia has an overall poverty rate of 26 percent: the highest recorded among the nation’s 10 most populous cities. In North Philly, that rate jumps to 57 percent.
Every other month there is an addict passed out at a table or in the bathroom at our library from an overdose. In December, one of our participants was taken out of school because he threw up from literally starving. Our makers regularly deal with trauma at home, at school, in the park and on the street.
But as much as my ability allows; our little maker space in the back room at the library is as trauma-free as I can provide. Providing this and the many other resources that we do is a constant struggle personally, and I am always trying to learn the best way to communicate with youth, the best way to teach youth, and the best way to simply be a friend.
Last week, I printed out a handful of questions to aid in storytelling for movie making and comic writing. One of the questions was, “who has been the kindest to you in your life?” One of our teens in the space told me, “well, definitely you all here.” The week before, he had revealed to us that he had suffered from depression since he was much younger and that this was the only place he felt safe to talk about it.
Is it possible this 17-year-old had truly never experienced kindness until becoming a part of our maker space? Yes, it is. The deep poverty of North Philadelphia and subsequent problems that comes from it make this not only possible, but probable.
As a mere part-time educator at a library there is not a lot I can do besides continuing to provide the emotional support and kindness. I will continue providing this service among the many others that Maker Jawn does until the library ends our program, citing not enough quantifiable successes for our program to be considered successful.
But how do you quantify emotional liberty?