Two Faith Leaders on Youth Violence and Solutions – Part 1 of 2

“It takes a whole village to raise a child.”

African proverb

Since the death of Michael Brown, our nation has heard from diverse parts of Brown’s Ferguson, Missouri community, as well as thoughtful political and legal analysis from noted experts. I’ve reported on this incident in three previous ‘village’ reports.

But what about the children?

What about the teenagers who, no matter their upbringing, still lose their lives at the hands of a ‘frightened’ police officer, as was allegedly the case with Michael Brown?  How do we prevent an adult, male neighborhood watch volunteer in a middle-class, Florida enclave from clinging to his ‘fear’ of 16-year-old Trayvon Martin, a black male youth walking back to his father’s home armed with a bag of Skittles?

These two young men were unarmed. They died at the intersection of irrational fear and a loaded gun.  This has got to stop!

In 2013, President Barack Obama assembled 18 ‘big city’ Mayors to talk about youth violence.  Their goal was to seek solutions. As a supporter of our President, I saw this gathering as a good first step.  Since then, I’ve come to view it as not enough.  The fact is far too many young, people—especially urban youth of color from difficult circumstances—simply do not get the support they need at home.  Likewise, most police officers do not engage black, urban youth enough to be comfortable around them without having the urge to shoot first and ask questions later.

There is no federal ‘cure’ for distorted cultural mindsets that spark gun-related deaths.

Americans need leadership on this issue. “We, the people,” can’t wait!

Visionary Faith Leaders Speak Out

There are two faith leaders that give me hope.

One, I’ve known for about 10 years and, the other, I’ve seen in action during the family leave time I’ve spent, recently, in my home town.

The intelligence and gifts of spirit of these two leaders—Rev. Dr. David A. Hampton, Senior Pastor of Light of the World Christian Church, in Indianapolis, and Rev. Dr. Velma A.Union, Founder of One Light International, Los Angeles— are worthy of policymakers’ attention.  Dr. Union is the Pastor Emeritus of The Lord’s Church and author of “Is the Church, the Church?”

Rev. Hampton has led his church since 2012.

He’s passionate about inspiring and leading young people to Christ. He engages young people where they are and provides them with safe alternatives to the lure of petty crime. Hampton’s commitment to working directly with youth led him to create a youth “lock-in,” a safe place where young people, under adult supervision, could have fun, fellowship and stay overnight, in church, until 8 a.m. the following day when their parents picked them up.

“In my first year here, in 2012, 300 youth showed up. Now, mind you, we were already serving about 200 young people every Tuesday night through fellowship and Bible study.  The different thing I did was to let the young people in our congregation bring their friends with them, whether they were members or not.  The next year we had a “lock-in,” we expected another 300 young people or more and we got them. What changed from that point on was that the young people started posting about it on social media .  This year, the third time we held a lock-in, we had about 3,000 show up!  The first couple of times we held lock-ins, there were absolutely no fights or disturbances.  This time there was a fist fight, but, overall the program was overwhelmingly positive.

“I think if the church wants to be relevant, we absolutely have to be relevant to young people.  We need them if we’re going to survive.  We have to be non-traditional in our approach and engagement with them.  Traditional ministry is not going to work for these young people. 

“We’ve got to hear their voices, their ideas.

“We’ve got to engage with them and even be willing to lay aside our egos and expectations to really understand who they are and what they’re dealing with.”

Rev. Hampton is so determined to help lead young lives to Christ and to productive futures, that he’s considering running for the local school board.

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