I am currently twenty years old. I remember turning twenty and how weird it felt to no longer be a teenager. It had taken me so long to be comfortable in my identity as a teenage girl, and to have who I was stripped away again and turned into something new felt very unusual.
I spent so long being embarrased to be a teenage girl. By the time I learned to wear it as a badge, my teenagehood was nearly over. As a graduated teen, I still feel sense a comradery with all the other teenage girls going through what I experienced. At that age, it’s nearly impossible to be taken seriously. Yet, despite this, teenage girls prosper.
Some of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met have been teenagers. There’s something really unique about that time in our lives. There’s a passion and creativity that happens during our teenage years that I don’t think can be found anywhere else. It’s for this reason that I really love youth art; it’s honest, open and not nearly as caught up in its own pretension as a lot of art created by adults. Society often spends a lot of time looking down on teenagers, but I think we should spend more time admiring them, trying to be as honest and ernest as they are.
Brianna Aquino is a senior at the Met High School, and she’s also our youngest CREATOR here at PeaceLove. Brianna uses the curriculum with her advisory group, where she hosts expressive arts workshops. She also has an internship at Parent Support Network of Rhode Island, where she works with youth groups and hopes to eventually incorporate the PeaceLove workshops.
In addition to her passion for helping others, Brianna is a writer. I had the privilege of hearing Brianna read one of her poems at our 2018 Peace of Mind Storytellers event. As a writer, poetry has always been a medium that speaks to me. You can imagine my excitement when she agreed to an interview! We spent a lot of time talking about the teenage experience and how unique it is. We also talked about the struggles that come with it, and the tricks we learn as teenagers. Charisma, for example, can be a survival tactic to conceal our anxiety and depression.
At first, Brianna didn’t share her writing with others. She explains to me that even if no one saw it, the process of writing helped her work through her feelings. Over time, writing has allowed her the platform to express herself and to share things she would otherwise conceal. If Brianna’s time at PeaceLove has taught her one thing, it’s the importance of storytelling. Sharing our feelings and experiences with others is comforting, and it connects us to one another powerfully. While being so vulnerable is scary, Brianna continues to show her work because of how many people have later reached out to her and expressed that her poem related to them, impacted them, in some way.
It takes a lot of courage and honesty to admit our lives aren’t perfect. Doing that is important, though, especially in reference to our mental health. We talk a lot about “ending the stigma”, but this begins with breaking apart the notion that there are the people “who are sick” and the people “who aren’t.” We all, in some way, struggle. This is part of the human experience. Acknowledging this about ourselves gives others the courage to acknowledge it about themselves too.
Brianna has been accepted to Rhode Island College, where she plans to get her degree in social work. The age group she hopes to work with? Teenagers. Brianna wants to help teenagers the way the adults in her life helped her through those middle school and early highschool years.
With everything we see in the news about what’s happening in our world, it can be hard to feel optimistic. I know that, personally, I’ve been feeling quite anxious because of it. Meeting with Brianna was a great reminder how many amazing young people there are out there that will change our world for the better. Brianna will be going to Mexico over the next year to conduct PeaceLove workshops through her school’s partnership with non-profit organization RISE Now. While in Mexico, she will be working with RISE Now to build a playground for their school using recycled materials.
I can’t wait to see where Brianna goes in the future, and all that she does. She has aspirations of putting out her own book, but luckily, you don’t need to wait until then to read her poetry. You can follow her on Instagram, @theystoleallmyideas, and read excerpts of her poems there.