TeenPacters Speak Up: A Series by Between Black and White
Part Six: TeenPact Breakaway, by Jessica
I remember it clearly. Like a scene from a movie
I remember the exact moment I began to breakaway from the TeenPact message.
And what is funny is that the reason it started to crumble had nothing to do with the misogyny, the hypocritical modesty standards or corrupt election rigging. Instead, it was a young person who dared to speak their opinion; an opinion that the powers-that-be did not share.
First some background.
In March 2002, Alabama legislature was locked in an intense debate over reforming the Alabama constitution. At the same time, the 2002 Alabama TeenPact Session was conveying. They thought it would be the ideal time to introduce us to government in action (and rightfully so).
This was my second year to attend TeenPact. The first year, my involvement was fairly basic. I went to my state class. I learned a lot and really enjoyed socializing with so many people so decided to go to an alumni event: Leadership Summit.
It was there that I bought into the whole TeenPact ideal. The TPA dress code, how to interact with guys, how to keep “sweet” and be acceptable (which I never quite could do). But the biggest thing I learned was the idea of servant leadership. To the TeenPact organization, sacrificing yourself is the only way to be a servant leader. Which is true, in part. However, they failed to emphasis that it doesn’t mean becoming a doormat, an enabler or codependent. Telling impressionable young people…especially young women that to be God-like you must take anger, taunts and other abuse without providing guidance on assertiveness and boundaries is dangerous. But I bought it. I bought it all.
And it damaged me.
To this day, I am prone to accept abuse from toxic individuals because I feel like I deserve it. I do not establish appropriate boundaries because I don’t feel I deserve them. If I want to be a good Christian, I will want to be abused and mistreated. This has caused a lot of problems in establishing friendships and even in my prior relationships with men (before my husband).
Back to my TeenPact story, though…
After Leadership Summit, I was hooked. I went and worked for two weeks at the National Offices, I staffed a one-day class, and was so ready for my alumni state class!
It was at this week-long class, that I, along with the Alabama TeenPacters, sat and observed the Alabama legislature debate the reforming of the state constitution. My father was a county official and I was very familiar with the state constitution reforming bill. Reforming the constitution would be beneficial for every county and would also alter the language to remove racist terms. I didn’t see a problem with allowing the state to do so. It was thousands of pages longs and the way it had been created was not intuitive to the 21st century. I, however, was in the minority. The rest of the TeenPacters were in a fever that the Democrats (said with all fear and loathing) would add all kinds of liberal propaganda. Like, gasp, the horror, lottery! Even at that age, I didn’t see the big deal in having a lottery. Sure it was stupid and I didn’t want to waste my money on it but so what if it was added to the constitution; if it would improve efficiency and remove racist language, who cared.
While I sat there with my other TeenPacters, a newscaster came along and tapped me and my friend on the shoulder:
“Are ya’ll here to watch the debate?” she asked. “Do you support constitutional reform?”
I said naively, “I do!”
She took me out of chambers and did an interview with me. I was glowing because I was actually expressing my views on an important matter, one that could affect my state!
After the interview and the Senate dispersed (not ever deciding on anything, of course), I walked back with the rest of the group. The Program Director walked up to me and said “I see you were getting interviewed. What about?”
At this time, I had a huge crush on this Program Director and was convinced that we would have one of those love stories that I read about in all my courtship books.
I said proudly, “I told her how I was pro-constitution reform. And I gave her an interview!”
His face went blank. He was shocked. At that moment, I realized I had gone against the TPA code of conduct by disagreeing with them on a policy matter. It should have been obvious to me that constitution reform was something we were supposed to be against since being pro-constitution reform was a “liberal” thing. To his credit, the Program Director (who I did not marry, thank God) didn’t chastise me or report me to the TeenPact Dad for the week (please, someone, write about the TeenPact parents).
It was at that moment the first seed of doubt appeared about TeenPact. I might not have been aware of it but it was then that I started to realize I was “different.” I didn’t follow the party line exactly. In hindsight, I wish that I had questioned “the look” more.
Looking back, I think I know what was in that look from the Program Director. It was astonishment that someone would think differently. It was confusion that a girl would speak out. It was suspicion over my ability to critically analyze a problem and come to a pretty good conclusion. All qualities that TeenPact supposedly promotes in theory but in action they are just as harsh on free thought as any other religious or political fanatic.
To be continued.