by Marissa Huante-Garcia
My name is Marissa and I am the Coalition’s Victim and Survivor Advocate. In addition to helping with youth referred to us by Friday Court, I have also, pre-COVID, facilitated the My Life My Choice youth program within the Juvenile Justice Campus. This is a program specifically created for teen girls who have been in the life or who are at particularly high risk for human trafficking. Given the nature of the program and the various, difficult topics it covers, it’s safe to say that this is a challenging program for both youth and facilitators under the best of circumstances. Add in the extra layers of Juvenile Detention and it was somewhat intimidating to start.
It was important for me to learn how to work through stacks of paperwork and working through the carefully structured program. I found myself able to do that with support from those working at the Juvenile Justice Campus as well as a lot of trial and error. However, something I muddled over – something the program book doesn’t really teach you- is how I could possibly grasp and maintain these girls’ attention.
I realized early that the best way to this was to be my realest self.
As cliche as that sounds, it was what I had to do. I had to try and be as real as I could with these girls, as the young girl from rural Selma where the sound of gunfire and the smell of marijuana are familiar. I had to let myself be the girl who could relate to them culturally, if not fully then at least in some capacity when it came to my knowledge of rap music, pop culture, and the dynamics of the Latino community.
It was a humbling experience to recognize that some of the metaphoric hats I would wear in my professional or social settings were not going to cut it once I was inside with those girls. It was humbling to recognize that there are some areas where my professionalism and aspects of my background that are considered less professional may need to cross paths. In this way, I learned just as much from these girls as they did from me. And in the midst of all this, the most rewarding moment I had was when of the girls shared, quite directly, and with words I cannot use here, that I had their respect. Something, that stuck with me as I had only hoped I could have their ear. I facilitated this group a few times in JCC and despite the grim realities of the content, it felt good to high five girls who now knew me as they walked in and to see that they were actually excited to start another class.