Journal of Community Power Building      COMM-ORG Papers 2004

Contents | Walking the Fine Line | The Power of Patience | Fear and Coaxing in Waltham | A Seat at the Table | ¡Sí Se Puede! | The Local/Global Politics of Boston’s Viet-Vote | Laying Down a Speed Bump | Jook Sing

The Power of Patience.

By Yordy Ureña and Bill Traynor, Lawrence CommunityWorks

Yordy Ureña was born and has lived his whole life in the Lawrence area.  Fifteen years old, he is currently attending night school at MethuenHigh School, and is a volunteer at Lawrence CommunityWorks during the day.  Before the age of fourteen, Yordy was arrested twice, for Assault and Battery and Assault with a Deadly Weapon, and served two stints in a high-security JuvenileDetentionCenter.  Over the past two years, Yordy has been a part of the LCW Young Professionals program.  (His older brother Juandoly was one of the first Young Architects at LCW and is now attending WoodburyCollege in Burbank, California on scholarship.)  Last fall, Yordy was one of three young people to be selected to participate, with twelve adult leaders, in a six-month leadership experience at LCW called Poder (“Power” in Spanish).  Here Yordy is interviewed by LCW Executive Director Bill Traynor on the topic of power.

Bill: Yordy, I remember the first time I met you.  It was at the MACDC Lobby Day at the State House when you were fourteen.  We were all leaving and you said, “I don’t know why they say they don’t have enough money for affordable housing; why don’t they scrape some of the gold off the roofs of their houses!”

Tell me what words come to mind when you hear the word POWER?

Yordy: Strength, knowledge, patience.

Bill: Patience. That’s an interesting one.

Yordy:Yeah well, my problem has been my temper, and expecting to get exactly what I wanted when I wanted it.  That’s the kind of situation on the street.  Everybody reacting and everything is about right now.

Bill: Do young people talk about power on the street?

Yordy: The power that some kids want is not the good power.  It’s not leadership really. The power you get off the street is bad power – getting what you want and getting it now and doing what you need to do to get it. It just brings problems and definitely doesn’t help to build patience.  Basically there’s too much drama…and that leads to lock up or death, and me and some of my friends have gone one way or the other. It takes a lot to turn that around.  For me it took people that I care about hitting me in the head with a broom. 

Bill: You spent some time in Juvenile Lock Up.  In retrospect, do you think you learned anything about power from that experience?

Yordy:People that lock you up – that is serious power.  People who can restrain you, tell you when to go to the bathroom, when to look outside of the window…that’s serious power.  You need permission for everything. It made me realize everything that I took for granted in my own house. I thought I had no power at home. But I lost the little power that I did have in my house...I lost it all.  My power at home was like 50 percent.  In lock up it was one percent.  So I lost 49 percent of the power I had.  That shook me up and woke me up.

Bill: Are you a powerful person now?

Yordy: In a way I am and in a way I am not. The little kids here look up to me in a way. I am a role model.  Plus I feel like I have power here at LCW, the power to convince people…to move stuff that I want to see happen.  In a way I’m not because I’m afraid of people who have more power than me.  I’m starting to see the difference between raw power and leadership. I’m not afraid of leadership.  Like, the courts still have power over me.  If I mess up in some little way they have the power to lock me up again.  That is a power that I am mostly afraid of. 

Bill: You have been a part of the Poder Leadership Experience group. What has that been like for you?

Yordy: It’s been the best experience I have ever had.  I learn a new thing every moment and I never thought I could have fun with the older people, but they are great.  I learned how to ‘facilitate’ a class.  How to take a big question and make it into a web so people can take on different parts of it.  I learned how to lead a brainstorm.  Plus, I learned to speak more Spanish.  The older people kept encouraging me to speak Spanish, which I was embarrassed about.  But they were very accepting and made it all a part of who I was…you know, practicing my Spanish in the class.

Bill: Has it been strange being in Poder and talking about power with adults?

Yordy: I was accepted.  That’s the main thing.  You see an older person’s point of view and then a young person’s point of view.  Sometimes they were close together and then sometimes they were way off, like one was on Saturn and the other was on Pluto.  And then we are two inches away from each other again.  Actually, it’s amazing how our points of view were so close together 99 percent of the time.  It surprised me.  I was shocked….people treated me and Richard and Ricky just like a part of the group.  We were all students there, all equally there to learn.

Bill: What kinds of things are you learning about power in Poder?

Yordy: One class that we had – it was our main retreat – I had an ‘aha’ moment.  For most of the retreat we were all together, a lot of agreement on everything.  But then we had to pick one issue to hold a community forum on – for real, we have to do it next month as part of the class – and at the end it didn’t all come together.  We had a lot of disagreement about what to focus on.  One thing I learned was that the majority can’t always win.  We had to persuade and work to get consensus.  It was hard work, but I realized how powerful patience can be, ’cause I couldn’t force anything to happen.  I had to make arguments to win people over.  It helped me realize how to work at persuasion, and how to use what I know to push for what I think is right.  But the ‘aha’ was that I had to really listen to people to figure out where they were coming from so I could come up with the right kind of persuasion.  I was noticing the reactions I got when I had an idea.  People would go hmm…like they didn’t really agree but they weren’t really buying.  Well, I wanted to get from “hmm” to “oh he has a good point!”  And I got a few of those before the retreat was over.

Bill: What kinds of things have you learned about how you personally build or use power?

Yordy: I learned that my biggest power is to build my patience. That is the number one thing that a person needs. You can’t get it all your way.  You have to bend it or come up with a new idea.  I used to feel like….you don’t want the other person to be right, ’cause then you feel wrong.  But now I can look at it and say, “Someone could be right, but that doesn’t make me wrong. We could be both right or both wrong.”  Plus I like the idea that I can change people’s minds if I work at it.  I have some power to convince.  That’s the kind of power that works here [at LCW].  I have power here because people listen and they take my feedback seriously.  And it’s real because if I have a bad idea people will say, “That’s a really bad idea.”  So I know that it’s real.

Bill: You’ve done a lot at school and at LCW over the past few years.  Do you worry about what’s ahead for you?

Yordy: I still worry.  Trouble looks for me in a way.  I have kids looking for me still who don’t get it and want to pull me back.  If I get in it with them and lose my temper it’s going to be bad for me.  It is my fault that I have my reputation, but a reputation is a hard thing to lose, and they don’t see or maybe care that I’m trying to do.  It takes little steps to take a big step, and I’m taking little steps now.  The court won’t see that I’m changing until I do that big thing…take that big step.  I don’t know what that big thing is but I hope it’s coming soon.

Contents | Walking the Fine Line | The Power of Patience | Fear and Coaxing in Waltham | A Seat at the Table | ¡Sí Se Puede! | The Local/Global Politics of Boston’s Viet-Vote | Laying Down a Speed Bump | Jook Sing