I previously wrote about this show at Heart Breaths, Encounter Groups and MTV’s If You Really Knew Me. Each episode of If You Really Knew Me takes place at a different high school, and follows several students from different cliques as they go through the life-changing experience of Challenge Day, a one-day program that breaks down emotional walls and completely changes the way students view their school and each other. Challenge Day addresses common issues seen at most schools including cliques, gossip, rumors, negative judgments, teasing, harassment, isolation, stereotypes, intolerance, racism, sexism, bullying, violence, homophobia, hopelessness, apathy, and hidden pressures to create an image, achieve or live up to the expectations of others.
The Challenge Day Leaders begin with a short presentation. They are excellent speakers and keep their sentences short. An iceberg is drawn on the board, showing 10% above the waterline and 90% below. We’re like that, too, the kids are told. The top 10% is what everyone sees, that’s our image. The other 90% is what lies within us, who we are at home and what we think about our life and how we really feel about everything in it. It’s that 90% that is what we deal with every day and that 90% is what’s real. That means the other 10% is fake. And Challenge Day is all about breaking down walls and getting real.
One profound game/exercise they do is Crossing The Line. Some of the more serious statements were “If you’ve ever felt abandoned or alone, cross the line. If you’ve ever had your family torn apart through drugs or alcohol, cross the line. If you’ve ever contemplated suicide, cross the line. Cross the line if gunshots are a part of your everyday life. Cross the line if you have ever teased, belittled or hurt someone because you were jealous.” The purpose of the exercise, which is performed in silence, is to teach the participants about oppression and that everyone is in a minority. The hall becomes filled with the majority of the students crossing the line back and forth.
They then break up into small groups of maybe 7 each and sit in a circle, close enough that knees are touching. They are asked to close their eyes and relax into that quiet space inside them where they can be who they are and see who they are and experience who they are. Then, eyes open, one by one, they go around the circle and finish the sentence If you Really Knew Me, You Would Know …
One of the Challenge Day Leaders is Vinny Ferraro, a kind of scary looking gang bangin type that wins your heart the moment he opens his mouth. Vinny says, “If you Really Knew Me, You Would Know I felt alone most of my life. When my mom died, when I was 17, I truly found out the meaning of alone. My parents were drug addicts. I chose to escape most of my teenage years with drugs, and transitioning into volunteer work saved my life. I wasted twenty years being cool, and feeling alone, and refuse to waste one more moment.
When the kids open up to each other, face to face, they feel connected to them, they see they all have big struggles they are going through, and they see they are more similar than they thought before Challenge Day. Last night’s show was about cyber-bullying. When they were asked to cross the line if they had ever been hurt or ridiculed by a classmate through public texts or online means, about 3/4 of the room crossed the line. Each side of the room was asked to look back at the other side and see if they saw anyone they had hurt, or been hurt by.
I thought of some of the people I see on Facebook that slam each other left and right, spill secrets, gossip and spread rumors, something I don’t think they’d do in person. We all know people like that. I wonder if they’d be willing to cross the line and stand face to face. The students would signal support to each other by raising their hands in the American Sign language sign for “I love you.” The transformation in just 6 hours is awe inspiring.
Challenge Day really begins, they are told, the next day when you wake up and go to school and have the chance to do things differently, to treat all the other students differently. They have an assembly where some of the Challenge Day participants are asked to tell what they experienced. They challenge the students to break the cliques, stop the gossip and rumors, stop the negative judgments, harassment, isolation and intolerance. To say hi to kids they don’t know, to give a smile, to hold out a hand and be a friend, to hang out with people they don’t normally hang out with, to look for ways to be helpful and make everyone feel included. They asked those students willing to take that challenge, to please stand, and the auditorium all stood and raised their hands, signalling support.
Challenge Day is more than a one-day program. It is the spark that ignites a movement of compassion and positive change, known as the Be the Change movement.
Ghandi said it best: Be the change you wish to see in the world.