Working with Young Men at Central States SER

by Vanessa Borjon

Central States SER (SER) is a workforce development and education organization that believes in the potential of each and every individual. The atmosphere at SER is super lively—the walls are covered in colorful murals and there always seems to be music bumping from somewhere, and inside other classrooms you can hear laughter, chatter, or sometimes more serious conversation happening.

My first book group happened at SER on September 11th. There were about eight young men in the room, plus their teacher, Moises, and the program director, Pete. Pete facilitated a short opening with the group where we went around the circle and introduced ourselves and shared what we were feeling. After that, I started book group and for a first day it went as expected: the group was quiet and a bit hesitant to share, but there was still just enough curiosity to keep them engaged.

We read a short story that centered friendships, racial inequity and police brutality. In the story, a group of young men are hanging out after school and get pulled over by a cop. The narrator is white and describes the way he sees himself being treated differently from his friend, a young black man. At the very end of the story, it’s insinuated that the cop shoots the narrator’s best friend. The story was very evocative and the group had a lot to share about their own treatment with cops.

The second week, I noticed about half of the guys were gone. Pete mentioned that a lot of them had started jobs or internships, and I was glad to hear that and grateful to see SER’s commitment to their youth’s potential in action. Although some of the guys were gone, a few also joined the group, and with them they brought their eager personalities. Conversation and discussion has only grown since the first group, and there are times I see the group really start to question the world around them—this of course is just one of the goals of book group: to challenge the youth we work with to think outside of the box, or outside of the world as they know it.