Harlem, 1991. Pre-gentrification. It was an unlikely location for a book club. But every week, I hopped the subway and headed to the Children's Aid Society Center at 103rd and Columbus to lead a group of young teens in book discussions.
Looking back, "The Catcher in the Rye" seems like an odd choice, a story seemingly so far from the day-to-day experiences of my young readers. My notes from that time are simply a scrawled list of discussion questions: "How did Holden feel about adults? peers?" "Why did he break the windows of the station wagon." I wish I could remember how the kids related Holden's feelings and experiences to their own.
I was working at Channel 13/WNET at the time and the kids thought it was super cool that I worked in TV. The fact that it was public television, rather than MTV, didn't seem to matter. The fact that I wasn't on TV or even working on the production end of the business, didn't seem to matter either.
Ralph was particularly interested. So much so that we discussed the possibility of an internship. His frame of reference limited him to asking about an internship in the mailroom. Ultimately, the station hired him to be my (unpaid) marketing services intern.
As an intern, Ralph did what high school interns do. He stapled. He made copies. He came in a few days a week after school.
When the time came for us to part ways, I asked him to write down what he had gotten out of the internship.
"I have learned that I have fun working...
...it is really easy to get along with one another...
...to work in a big building with others you have to get along...
...you can't come in mad and then take it out on everyone else...
...if you're angry stay home don't come to work..."
Ok that last might be impractical as a full-time employee, but darn if it doesn't make some sense.
I can't help but wonder what ever happened to that kid who learned the importance of getting along with others at work, when he was just 14.
Joan Brady is a professional photographer; mentor and advocate for current and former foster children; a volunteer with paws4People, Fairfax Families4Kids, and others; and a resident of Great Falls. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org