I want to tell you about an experience I had a few weeks back that pretty much ripped my heart out of my chest. An experience that gutted me. A few months ago, one of my closest friends here in Atlanta, Madison, asked me if I’d consider speaking to female students at a high school in southwest Atlanta. Her friend is an assistant principal and wanted someone to lead a discussion about healthy relationships. I had not spoken to a strictly high school crowd since I spoke at the Athlete: The Positive Champion conference years ago in Austin, Texas. But as Madison explained to me, these students were in desperate need of information and guidance as they face some difficult home situations and challenges. I, of course, said, “Yes, sign me up!”
The night before the presentation, Madison stopped by and told me she wanted us to present the material together. She felt that we’d be able to reach the students better that way because she could be the bridge between my information and the students’ willingness to accept it; Madison is way cooler than I am. While I usually work alone, I trusted her instincts. Thus, “Life Chat with Madison and Keri” was born.
Madison introduced me to the approximately 150 high school juniors and seniors gathered in the school library the next morning. She told them how, through our friendship, she has shed the ‘miseducation’ that kept her not believing victims and assigning them blame instead. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I moved through the material slide by slide, careful not to overwhelm them. Madison and I played off each other, cracked some self-deprecating jokes, and did our best to keep all 150 students awake and engaged.
When we were finished, the students clapped, but it was so hard to tell what they thought and if we had reached them. I saw students begin to congregate around Madison to no surprise. She is stunning, successful and approachable. I turned to collect my things when I realized students were lining up for me too, many with tears in their eyes. I dropped my bags. And what I heard from them, I tell you, was some of the worst abuse and violation I’ve ever heard in all my years doing this work. These are children. Fourteen-year olds!! Fifteen-year-olds who have been raped and HAD CHILDREN from the rapes. I was destroyed. I had to fight with everything in me to keep my composure and present a calm and assuring front for them. As a state mandated reporter, I also had to share what they told me with school officials. I was overwhelmed.
Madison and I made a quiet car ride back to our town, stunned by what I had been told and what we had experienced. In the hours after, we would text each other our resolution to continue with these presentations across Atlanta, to as many girls as possible, and younger ones at that. So, in 2018, “Life Chat with Madison and Keri” might very well become “Girl Talk with Madison and Keri.” And we are going to sweep through this city with the ferocity of Sherman, but with all of the hope and love in the world, and none of the destruction.