On a hot Monday in June, I again found myself at the Reclaiming Youth International Conference in the Black Hills of South Dakota serving as MC of the annual Spirit of Crazy Horse Awards Ceremony. The award honors those who have done outstanding work with children and youth through their practice, policy development, or research.
The award evokes both Crazy Horse’s amazing tenacity, courage and leadership and the equally amazing and tenacious Korczak Ziolkowski, a sculptor who journeyed from Boston to the Black Hills in 1948 to start carving what is the world’s largest ongoing mountain sculpture. When finished the sculpture will be a breath-taking 641 feet long and 563 feet high. The face of Crazy Horse alone is 90 feet tall.
The award celebrates Crazy Horse. And it aims to inspire, to spark courage, and encourage work far above the odds. It tells us all to risk vision, to believe, no, to know that under a huge pile of stone lies a monumental statue awaiting release.
It is a message to all who work with kids and families in trouble – to those who strive to bring something marvelous out of hard rock. Those connected with Reclaiming Youth International and the thousands of people in communities across the nation are those who would chip away, never giving up, working with youth who have given up on themselves, who, to protect themselves from hurt, anger and despair, have become hard.
Father Gregory Boyle, founder and executive director of the Los Angeles-based Homeboy Industries, internationally renowned for his work with gang-involved youth, one of the two award winners that day used another metaphor to describe how he saw the essence of the work with tough kids. “We are to be there, finding the best under the tattoos and anger, playing it back.” And then quoting from the glorious Christmas carol, “O Holy Night,” he said, “Then ‘the soul found its worth.'” To risk digging, believing that under all the rubble, all signs to the contrary, lies “worth.”
Korczak believed there was something beautiful under that rough mountain. Everybody thought he was nuts – especially since he began with only $20.00. Read twenty dollars.
Every day Korcak chiseled, drilled and blasted.
He never lost hope, ever: even in the boiling sun; even in winter’s howling winds; even when his one pneumatic machine broke down, which it often did.
Hope is seeing something that is not yet here, but will be…
Hope is believing this even when you’re tired, angry and discouraged…
Hope is continuing to believe that there is something incredible under a hard, defensive shell…
Hope is continuing to believe when other people say, “You’re nuts. Give up! It’s not worth your time and energy. That kid is too far gone.”
I have seen kids emerge, kids who thought they were a pile of messy, hard, unloved rock. Kids like Donnie, Erin and Eric, kids from terribly troubled backgrounds who have gone on to school, gotten jobs, raised families.
So Korczak’s message is really not about a legendary Native American leader, although that’s part of it.
No, Korczak’s message is about those who ride through life boldly serving as an inspiration for others, continuing to chisel, to chip away, anchored in the belief that a beautiful kid will emerge from under hard rock.
(Adapted from opening remarks given at the Crazy Horse Memorial, June 25, 2012)