An unsolicited letter from a teen leader:
May 20th, 2018 Chanaiah Maxwell Philadelphia, PA
To Whom It May Concern:
Not long ago, I was asked to name three of my biggest influences in the world. Naturally, as the only child of a supportive and loving single parent, the very first person I thought to state was my mother. The second person was Judy Nelson, my very first boss. Judy was no typical boss. She was in no way conventional. Judy was honest, an open ear and heart, and a true leader. Yes, she signed my time sheets weekly, and I knew that she was there to supervise me and to make sure that I was working effectively, but I did not fear Judy in a way that many people fear their bosses. Instead, I had a healthy respect for Judy, because she led by practice. Her work and supervision were led by constant practice of the things she valued most in the world – her core values - love, compassion for others, compassion for self, conflict resolution, accountability, and healing,
Through Judy, I learned about conflict resolution through improvisation. I learned the importance of recognizing and communicating my feelings, accepting the feelings of others, and holding myself and others accountable for words and actions. Once I developed these skills, I was able to help young children develop healthy skills to work through conflict.
In marginalized communities where children are underserved, overlooked, and over-criticized with little critical analysis of their conditions, it’s easy for children to define themselves by their vulnerabilities and weaknesses first. However, through strength-based activities, Judy works to help children pull from within themselves and their peers to identify their strengths, and to view their weaknesses and vulnerabilities not simply as negatives that hinder them from succeeding, but as challenges. Some of my most fond memories in life include sitting with a small child and their friend in front of a life size tracing of themselves, and listening to them discuss and crayon their strengths and positive attributes. It is truly a transformative experience to watch a child discover the most beautiful things about themselves
and to realize that they do in fact possess the tools necessary to overcome their circumstances. That is Judy’s daily work.
These children are also not estranged from trauma. Violence, neglect, criminalization, and injustice are dominant and normalized in many of their communities. Judy understands that giving people, especially young children and teens, space to acknowledge and actualize themselves, their experiences, and the happenings around them are important. She understands that the ways in which we confront and respond to the world are informed by our experiences and our traumas. Judy believes in reserving space for those experiences and traumas, through unpacking and acknowledging them, allowing space for other elements in life through containment, and empowering and reimagining one’s self through meditation and seeing one’s self accurately.
Judy wishes to navigate the world through love, communication, and compassion. At one point in time, at the age of 14, these ideas were my job. Today, at the age of 25, these ideas have become a part of my core values. They have become the values and ideas that allow me to engage the world. From time to time, I catch up with teen leaders who were also led by Judy, just as I was. Although I may not speak to those peers daily, as many of us live in different cities and have chosen different career paths and lives for ourselves, I am 100 percent certain that they are making positive contributions to the world around them, because they were led by Judy Nelson and her work. I am positive that Judy’s work is still transforming people today, children and adults alike. Her work is not just unconventional; it is necessary.