I can’t do things by myself – I’m dumb.
The printed words on scraps of colored construction paper bore an honest pain. Back2Back Cincy staff read them with sensitivity and then folded them into a loop, adding them to a growing paper chain. A paper chain of lies students were believing about themselves.
After-school programming includes Bible lessons for teens served in Cincinnati. Most participate quite willingly, and others, like Monique* prefer to just watch. She is a young woman most would’ve described as “standoffish” before this year. Never unkind or outright misbehaving, Monique was just more comfortable in the back of the room with her earbuds. She especially didn’t like being involved in spiritual lessons. “She shared once that she didn’t enjoy spiritual activities because in the past it had felt forced upon her,” explained Nkem Iheukwu, Back2Back staff. Staff wanted to respect her wishes, but were always encouraging her to use her voice and be herself.
After summer programming ended, Monique started at a new school. Her last conversation with staff before this transition was enlightening. “I think I’m going to have to wear a mask at my new school,” she shared one day with another staff member, Stephanie Powers. Stephanie, thinking she meant a face mask, confirmed she’d have to wear one. “No, I mean, I’m not going to be able to be my true self.” Stephanie took time to affirm Monique, assuring her she never had to hide her true personality from anyone.
When programming during the school year started again, Monique ran into the room with an enthusiasm they hadn’t seen before. “She was so excited to share about her new school, her cool teacher, and the new friends she’d made,” shared Stephanie. It was on this same day they learned the Bible lesson on Adam, Eve, and the serpent.
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. Genesis 3:15
Verse 3:15 was the focus, and staff encouraged the teens to write down lies they were believing about themselves on scraps of paper that were eventually turned into a paper chain. “We wanted the teens to bring Genesis 3:15 to life,” shared Nkem. “As the lesson ended and they were ready to leave the room, we put the paper chain of lies on the floor and encouraged them to bruise those lies with their heel on their way out the door.”
Each teen took their time walking over the lies, including Monique. Staff were excited to see a new involved version of her, but expected her to walk out normally as the others before her.
Instead, she danced over the lies she’d written down. Everyone gave encouragement, clapping for her as she danced over the 20-some lies she named. She claimed power over those lies, claiming truths for herself as she danced atop words she was letting go.
“I told Monique once, during a vulnerable moment, ‘we’re looking at you – but not with judgemental eyes. We just want to see you – fulfilled, fun Monique. We want to see you grow into who you were born to be,’” shared Nkem.
All eyes were on Monique, who quieted the lies with her heel, demonstrating she was committed to learning who she was.
This is a dance and story of victory.