Solomon delivers powerful lecture on Ameliorating Child Homelessness
Monday, February 25, 2013
Those statistics alone are jarring, Solomon acknowledged, but hearing a personal story of a family grappling with poverty or homelessness elicits “a different emotional response.”
“As a society we’ve shifted too heavily to describing everything in numbers,” he said. “I would like to keep the narrative there.”
Solomon, author of Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, led a Conversation at Lesley University on Monday as part of Lesley’s Child Homelessness Initiative. His book is about families dealing with differences, told through a collection of stories.
Solomon lauded Lesley for looking beyond statistics and deeply examining the issue of child homelessness, launching an ambitious initiative 18 months ago to spark a national conversation and train Lesley’s graduates – future educators, psychologists, expressive therapists and social service workers – to go out into the world and help ameliorate the scourge of child homelessness.
“I had the privilege this morning of spending some time with students and faculty,” Solomon reflected during the lecture, which drew a packed audience in Lesley’s Marran Theater. “It’s really thrilling to see so many people who are so intelligent, and have such kindness, and are so devoted to helping others.”
During his talk, titled “Far from the Tree: A Conversation on Ameliorating Child Homelessness,” Solomon spoke of parental love and parental rejection, and the almost magical power of unconditional support to help children endure, and even thrive, in the most challenging circumstances, including homelessness.
“The ones who are growing up with love, even if they’re being displaced, are going to have an easier time than those who are thrown out of their families,” said Solomon.
To illustrate this concept, he relayed some of the interviews from his book, such as the story of Clinton, a boy with dwarfism whose parents were told he would never walk or talk. During his childhood, he had 30 major surgeries, learned to walk, and became the first person in his family to go to college. When Solomon asked Clinton’s mother what she did to inspire such a successful outcome, she replied, “’I loved him. That’s all,’” Solomon recalled.
Solomon also spoke about the capacity to love in the face of extreme challenges, and even tragedy, like the case of the parents of Dylan Klebold, one of the shooters in the Columbine massacre, also featured in Far from the Tree. Dylan’s mother told Solomon that if she had the chance to speak with her son again, she would ask him to forgive her for being his mother and never knowing what was going on inside his head. And despite the tremendous pain parenthood ultimately caused her – and the devastation her son's actions caused for so many lives – she told Solomon that the love of her children has been the single greatest joy of her life.
In the end, however, Solomon said his message is not about all the things that go wrong, but it's how capable human beings are of loving each other and the difference that can make.
“I think the centerpiece of resilience is the ability to construct meaning out of what has happened,” said Solomon.
At the conclusion of his lecture, Solomon received a standing ovation, and Lesley faculty members Janice Wall and Kenneth Miller led an inquiry session with the audience, whose members asked Solomon questions on topics ranging from identity to adoption, how to create a curriculum that enforces the capacity to love, and what students and others can do to ameliorate the problem of child homelessness.
“I think the program that exists here at Lesley is an impressive program and the structure is here for helping,” said Solomon. “The concrete (ways to help are) enormously important, but so are these conversations. … If you can have a curriculum that addresses these problems, all of these things begin to make a huge, huge difference.”
Solomon said child homelessness is invisible to society at large, and homeless children are a disenfranchised population who aren’t able to go the ballot boxes or lobby elected officials for support. Therefore, the onus falls on people who are educated and who have a voice to fight for those children, he said.
Lesley student Leanna Ballofet, who is majoring in Child Studies and Early Childhood Education, praised Far from the Tree and Solomon’s ability to articulate the way exceptionality not only gives people a unique identity, but can also bring people together.
“Solomon is a zealous believer in equity, respect, and everyone’s right to find happiness in his or her own way,” said Ballofet. “As students going into the helping professions … it is so crucial we hear this message, that we live this passion.”
Established by Lesley University in May 2011 with support from the Schoen Family Foundation, the Child Homelessness Initiative (CHI) is a comprehensive project that aims to facilitate a national conversation on child homelessness and advances Lesley’s curriculum and learning opportunities to address the rising number of children and families in the United States grappling with chronic and episodic homelessness.
Lesley's CHI is directed by Dr. Mary Coleman, former Dean of Lesley’s College of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, and sponsored by Lesley alumna Laurie Schoen (’86), who is co-founder of United States 4 Kids (US4Kids), an organization committed to raising awareness about the national crisis of homelessness.
See photos from Andrew Solomon's visit to Lesley.
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