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

“America’s schools were not designed to do what we’re asking them to do…there has to be a collaborative effort between church, schools and community. Kids need something different…Our kairos moment is now.” — Rev. Dr. Velma Union

Thoughtful words from a scholar and faith leader who has spent much of her life in Los Angeles as a pastor, counselor and businesswoman.  Her views on how to intervene and improve young people’s lives are rooted in more than 20 years of living and working in a metropolitan environment that, despite its celebrity status, has its share of gun-related violence.

 “If we scratched the surface of educational outcomes, I guarantee we’d find that the schools are 50 percent effective if that.  Educators are in a battle with the popular culture that they’re not winning.  Today’s entertainment and hip-hop culture leads far too many young people to focus on the goal of ‘how do I make fast money?’ It’s as if they’re in a mad dash to lead a lifestyle they see glamorized in popular culture.  Educators need backup from the communities these young people come from,” said Dr. Velma W. Union, Pastor Emeritus of The Lord’s Church and President of One Light International in Los Angeles. Pastor Union understands youth violence, perhaps, more than most policymakers as she lost her son and business partner, Juan Walker, in a senseless act of gun-related violence in 1997.

“I don’t knock the kids, honestly, because they are operating from what they know.  These students are the hip-hop generation’s kids. The music and culture they’re exposed to is programming them to stay where they are and glamorize it. It’s a distorted view of how the world works.

“Celebrities don’t tell you the truth about jail.  They glamorize jail like it’s all this and all that.  It’s horrible! You’ve only got a little bit of space to live in.  You have no privacy for bodily functions. Incarcerated youth are going to be subject to whatever it is guards think is appropriate whether they like it or not. Pop culture needs to tell the truth about jail!”

While Dr. Union has not met Rev. Hampton, she admires his ‘lock-in’ program.  “I like his idea a lot, but the challenge is there are so many kids that need so much. I don’t know how you manage it on a level that works.”  Dr. Union supports the idea that the federal government and leading foundations should step up to support effective programs—or even new, start-up programs with promise like Rev. Hampton’s—that engage youth constructively and have a fighting chance to change young lives for the better.

“The challenge is that there are so many kids that need so much I don’t know how you manage it on a level that works.” 

Pastor Union has worked for years with members of the Congressional Black Caucus including Reps. Karen Bass, Maxine Waters and others.  She welcomes the opportunity to have this discussion on a scale like what President Obama did, in 2013, with U. S. Mayors.

“Our ‘kairos moment is now. ‘Kairos’ refers to a state of being when things come together for something to be born or something to take place.  This opportunity happens when humans operate at optimum capacity because they’re where they’re supposed to be and they’re doing what they’re supposed to do.

“Our children are not commodities or something to ‘fix.’  They’re complex human beings coming of age in the midst of epic technological change.  They need our full attention on what it’s going to take to stem the level of youth- and gun-related violence.  It takes everything to change an institution like our public schools.  It takes an engaged father and mother.  And, if families don’t have that, quite often it’s an older brother or sister who steps up. There’s more than one factor or one ‘quick fix’ to improve children’s lives.  The White House and our nation needs to be relentless in creating educational and social environments that improve children’s lives for the better.”

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