Story of OST with Youth

Chris Corrigan corcom at
Mon Feb 12 01:13:47 PST 2001


Every OST facilitator should, at least once, have the experience of
running an OST event with youth.  There is simply no way to put into
words the absolute joy of working with 50 youth in Open Space.  The
energy oozes from them.

I opened space on Saturday for 50 youth who were participating in a
consultation meeting hosted by the Provincial Ministry of the Attorney
General.  The theme was: "YOU TELL US: what do youth victims need?"  The
answers were fascinating.

Fifty youth showed up and they proposed 18 groups.  This group was as
diverse as any I have ever worked with.  We had First Nations, black,
Asian, South Asian and white, gay straight and bisexual, male and
female.  it was a demographer's dream come true.  And most of these
folks were not what many would consider at first sight to be the cream
of the crop.  They were mainly street wise, hip young folks, who had had
lots of experience with all the various aspects of the law.

During the opening, I was struck by how bored people looked.  They were
loafing around, not making eye contact, some of them snorting derisively
as I walked the circle.  But when I finished there was an explosion of
energy.  Three young women jumped at the paper and markers and everyone
else started chatting to each other.  A few motherhood issues went up,
until I heard someone say "legalize pot" quietly as I walked around the
circle past him.  I stopped and asked him if he wanted to make that a
group.  He laughed and looked embarrassed, but his friends were egging
him on.  I invited him to raise it if was something that was important
to him and he declined, but as I made the next round of the circle he
jumped out of his chair and wrote it down, announced it to the group and
put it on the wall.

The floodgates opened.  Soon we were moving from easy issues like
"Violence in the media" to "Police harrasment," "Abusive step parents,"
and "Probation: is it setting us up for failure?"

And to my sponsor's surprise, a good chunk of what the youth wanted to
talk about was victimization at the hands of authorities, including the
police, parents, social workers and transit security.

What became clear to me was that these young folks were not so much
victims of crime as victims of assumptions.  Even the hotel staff pulled
me aside to point out that the house phones were not to be played with.
When I asked them why they were telling me this, they indicated that
people had been dialing the front desk and hanging up.  I asked if they
knew it was anyone from our group, rather than any of the 150 or so
other guests in the hotel.  They staff got kind of sheepish and didn't
raise the issue again.

The young man who proposed the pot issue was a case in point.  He spent
the first two hours leading up to his discussion sitting alone in a
corner, writing.  At one point he came over to me and said "I really
don't want people to think I'm goofing around with this topic.  I want
to have a serious conversation."  Then he showed me seven questions he
had written and planned to ask his group.  They included:

   * Should we legalize pot?
   * What should the cut off age be?
   * Should we be allowed to smoke it at school?
   * Will Nike sponsor it?

And he gathered a group of about eight people around him for a very
detailed discussion.

While all this was going on, a small group of three boys were meeting in
another corner. They looked for all the world as if they were shooting
the breeze, but I noticed they were gathered where the "Skytrain
security" topic was posted. They kept grabbing post its and securing
their spot where they talked all day about -- skytrain security.  And
fare increases, and hours of operation and youth concessions and
timeliness and crime and spraypainting and recent system improvements.
I wished our local tranist authority was there to hear them!

In the closing circle, I heard many of the comments typical of the type
I get in youth events.  One young woman said "this is my sixth youth
conference and the first one where I said anything."  Mostly they
appreciated the opportunity to talk to government about what ever they

No question that working with youth can be a hairraising experience, but
that is the edge I love about OST, accentuated all the more when working
with all that raw, unbridled and uninhibited spirit.


Consultation - Facilitation
Open Space Technology

108-1035 Pacific Street
Vancouver BC
V6E 4G7

Phone: 604.683.3080
Fax: 604.683.3036
corcom at

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