Words are not simply black scratches on white paper. Words are much more that sounds that come out of our mouths. Whether you like it or not, words are incredibly powerful devices. Words affect the way we think, feel and act. They incite passionate reactions within us. Our responses to different words display our inner emotions and opinions to the outside world. Words are the means by which we interact and influence one another. In this way, words have an incredibly effect on our culture and its progression. Unfortunately today, the pressure and influence of these formerly insulting words is impacting our young culture in a destructive way.
Today, the word “explicit” is displayed everywhere. We are cautioned for the explicit content of movies, songs, television shows and books. After hearing an edited song on the radio, it is sometimes shocking to hear that song from its album in its original form. Kids and teens today are exposed to words and concepts of which I honestly did not even know the meaning at their age. They are cornered by these explicit images and terms, and often forced to speak of and even act upon them in order to be accepted by their peers. Maybe I missed the memo, but becoming a “ho” in middle school and having a baby by sixteen was never really on my radar. Activities like failing out of school, selling drugs, getting into fights and sleeping around somehow never really appealed to me in my childhood. It seems that today, however, this is all just a part of the culture.
Students of Baltimore City Public Schools, unfortunately, are commonly not an exception. With falling graduation rates, rising dropout rates, and unimpressive rates of literacy, it is not wonder kids are turning towards the lifestyle glamorized by their music and sports idols. Adolescents are so influenced by the explicitness of their music and culture that these words do not only affect them in their youth, but define the rest of their lives.
In my experience at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, I have been incredibly pleased to see students working against that curve. Many of the students come from low-income families living in dangerous neighborhoods. For these students, many of their neighborhood peers have allowed their outlooks on and ideas about life to be affected by the powerfully explicit words of today’s music and culture. Some students of Cristo Rey face ridicule for their commitment to avoiding drugs, graduating, going to college, and creating a future for themselves.
This is not to say that Cristo Rey students are above the influence of words; they have just chosen the words that will influence them wisely. By forming their lives around the Jesuit ideals of the self and education as opposed to the explicit, value-lacking models forced upon them by their culture, they are able to embrace their intelligence and put themselves in a position to strongly affect future generations.