I don't spend a lot of time on YouTube, but on occasion someone points something out to me and I go to see what it's all about. That's what sent me looking for the It Gets Better Project.
After seeing or reading about one too many teenagers who had committed suicide after being bullied for the sole reason of being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered (LGBT), Dan Savage launched the site to encourage these kids and let them hear the stories of others who knew exactly what it was like to be bullied because of their sexual orientation - because they have been there.
The message Dan Savage, author and journalist, wanted these young men and women to hear, was simple - it gets better. If you are bullied mercilessly, even when you are called all kinds of names and suffer all kinds of indignities, don't give up - it gets better.
As I read the background on this project, Savages' initial thinking was that LGBT adults would use YouTube to speak directly to kids with this reassurance. And there are many such videos and assurances. But there are also videos from famous straight actors and actresses, from President Obama, from Hillary Clinton, from Bishop Hanson of the ELCA, from Good Shepard UCC in Ann Arbor Michigan. There are songs, and couples and families, all with the message that it gets better. The care and concern about LGBT youth extends far beyond LGBT adults, all kids are our kids.
I was deeply moved by watching clip after clip, testimony after testimony, reassuring LGBT youth that it gets better. But even so, my heart ached because there is another group that needs to hear these same words. I want to be able to send this same sense of hope and affirmation to young African American men because I so want to believe that maybe just seeing and hearing from adults of color, indeed, adults of all races who are living successful and productive lives will make a difference.
But I also realize that the deck seems to be stacked against many of these young men. We heard just this week about the persistent and widening achievement gap between black male students and their white counterparts. The Sentencing Project, a national organization that is focused on alternatives to incarceration and works for a fair criminal justice system, states that one of every eight black males in their twenties is in jail on any given day and if current trends continue, one out of every three black males born today can expect to go to prison.
Maybe being the mother of two biracial young men in their twenties, whom society identifies as African American, makes me especially sensitive to these stark realities. I really do applaud Dan Savage for the It Gets Better Project because sometimes things do just get better. Kids get out of high school or out of repressive environments and see a whole new world of possibilities. But I also know that sometimes, too often really, things don't just get better all on their own, we have to do something to make them better.
This is not a contest or competition for who is worse off, or who needs the most attention - LGBT youth or young black men. I'm a parent of both and all kids are our kids. And yes, the It Gets Better Project is intended specifically for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered youth who are being bullied. It is a message of hope and affirmation that all of our kids need to hear.
I invite you to go to <itgetsbetterproject.com>. I'm sure you will be inspired to offer some words of hope to LGBT youth and then do something else - work for better schools, read to children, get involved politically to change an unjust and unhealthy system. Do something that helps make it better for all of our kids.
Edith Guffey is the UCC's associate general minister and a member of the the UCC's five person Collegium of Officers.