Monday, October 09, 2006

The state of our youth, part 1

Before I start, let me warn you that this is will be one of my longer pieces. I've got sooooo much to talk about. In fact, I think I'm going to do this in installments just to stop myself from going on and on. But, this is an issue that is deeply concerning me; more than politics, more than scandals, and even more than my own issues.

This weekend, I decided to spend my away-from-institutional-church time volunteering with Big Brothers/Big Sisters. One of my classmates serves as a program coordinator for the organization and impressed upon me the importance of getting involved in the lives of young people. Since I’ve been making the claim that it’s time for me to put more action behind my words (as opposed to hiding behind the walls of the church from 11-12:30 pm and claiming to do good), I embraced this as the perfect opportunity. As I’ve always maintained, it is long past the time for us, as the body of Christ to start taking action to rescue our young people from the ills of post-modernism, and the destructive influence of this new-aged popular culture. It’s pretty frightening to me to see how the minds of our youth are being infected by the empty, vacuous, and disparaging world of television, music, technology, and entertainment. But what are we doing about it? My classmate best described the situation by painting the following picture:

Imagine that, as Hurricane Katrina ravaged through the Gulf Coast Region, the levees break; allowing flood waters to sweep through cities. You helplessly watch as the waters swallow up your child. In your anger, you demand to know who is responsible for this tragedy. Who’s to blame for this? You spend all of your effort casting blame on federal, state, and local agents. But interestingly, they turn around and blame you. They ask one simple question of you: “How well did you teach them to swim?”

As I was leaving the center, I couldn’t help but to ask myself who is really to blame for the state of our young people; black kids especially. Upon further investigation, I think it would be well within the rights of the “agents” mentioned above (the media, music “artists”, television executives, etc.) to deflect the ‘blame’ back on us. The best question that we can ask ourselves is pretty obvious: “How have we failed our young people?” Why haven’t we done our jobs? Why haven’t we taught them how to live in a world full of the secular things that we vilify the most? How well have we taught our children to swim?

Whether our young people choose the secular life or not (though I suspect that most youth actually DO make the choice themselves), the fact is: we’ve failed them. We’re the ones who send young people out there in the social world without equipping them with the knowledge and wisdom to avoid those ills. Similarly to sending soldiers off to war without adequate equipment, we’ve sent our youth out there with a poor sense of understanding about the world and wonder why they turn out the way they do. For instance, when asked about her child’s irresponsible sexual behavior, one of my cousins said “As long as she uses protection, I don’t care what she does.” Is this what we've come to? We’re sending our children out there to battle again a powerful, high-tech army with nothing but dirt rocks and spitwads to protect themselves with. Scary.

The best diagnosis of our problem came at me pretty sharply. As much as we try to pass the blame on to others, the dilemma we face with our young people is really our fault. The body of Christ has failed miserably at reaching our youth. While the world has been successful at luring and drawing our youth, we’ve done an equally good job of turning them further away from Christ. The problem is: we’ve provided our youth with little, if any, real theology. So, what they turn to instead are the “-ologies” of BET, NBA, Playstation, cell phones, TV, Ipods, Internet, and name brand clothing. When they don’t have Biblical and theological foundations, it makes sense that youth are captivated by the hypnosis of materialism. I liken our situation to the story of the three little pigs. Too often we build houses with cheap material and a weak foundation (as opposed to the strong bricks of God’s word) and wonder why the big bad wolf of the world can so easily blow them down.

After talking to some of the kids at the center, I’m convinced that young people are desperately seeking our help. Instead of sharing aspirations of being rappers, professional athletes, or being in gangs, many of the kids talked about how they wanted to go to college, have purposeful careers, raise families, and – interestingly – grow closer to God. The sad thing is: they’re speaking directly to us and we have our fingers in our ears. Many young people are slowly being torn up inside, but won’t come to us because of how we respond to them. We judge them and tear them down before we even have a chance to listen to them. How are we supposed to reach them if we can’t even hear them? It’s like trying to play Marco Polo wearing headphones.

Another problem that we have (especially in the church) is that we spend too much of our time being phony and caught up with the external when young people need people who are real. Perhaps one of the most redeeming feelings for me was that when I met these kids, I wasn’t Andre the graduate student. I wasn't Andre the honors student. I wasn’t Andre the University of Michigan employee. My credentials were left at the door. What they saw was ME; and I think they were OK with that.

Interestingly, one of the reasons why celebrities, especially Black celebrities, captivate so many young people is because there is an impression that celebs is not only rich and famous; but they haven’t abandoned the ‘real’ element to them. If these kids knew how spoiled, pampered, uptight, arrogant, and out of touch most celebrities are (i.e. not performing a sold out concert unless they make “x” amount of dollars, or expecting a hotel to kick someone out of their room so that you and dog can have separate rooms *cough* Oprah *cough*), their credibility with these youth would be evaporated. These kids simply want someone in their lives to whom they can relate and who understands their struggles. What they find instead are pompous, arrogant, and sanctimonious adults who punish, chastise, and look down on them. We're failing our youth and we don't even know it. Worse yet, we don't even care.

I'm not going to strain your eyes too much so I'll call it quits here. Plus, I really need to get some work done. But, I've got lots more to talk about with this issue. Truth be told, I'm not sure how many more posts I'll have regarding this topic. But what I DO know is that -- right now -- my heart is full. But it's also greatly disturbed. Stay tuned...


6 "Insiders" spoke their mind. Join in...:

saved_sinner said...

Good observations Andre. Working in various capacities with young people, I see a lot of the things you mention; the zeal and the passion that children have. Its just too bad that we get so lost in our archaic way of thinking that we fail to live in the NOW.

Can't wait for the next post!

thehc said...

I can't say enough good things about your efforts or your observations here Andre. Everyone PLEASE listen to what Andre's telling you. Our kids need us. They are being bombarded with bad influence on every corner. I talked to a good friend of mine in A2 who told me he was in gangs, dealing, robbing and assualting and a Big Brother saved him from prison or worse. Your Government, your schools, your social programs can help, but they CAN NOT do it alone. Juan Williams, NPR reporter and social commentator has a new book out called "Enough" that addresses this very problem. And it's not just a black problem. White kids are emulating losers like Emenen, and glorifing "player" mentality and solving conflicts with guns. More and more kids are shooting up their schools. It's not just the guns, it's the mentality. Andre, this is a great example of why I respect you as a friend and fellow writer. If everyone tries to change just one life for the better, we CAN turn this around. Kudo's my friend, Kudo's,.

KC said...

Well done, Dre.

You hit it on the head. Too bad not enough people can see this.

KC said...

The copyright thing by your title is tight, BTW.

green eyed girl on planet earth said...

Andre~My Greeneyed handsome man ,

Great post , seems to bring another passion out in you , you being an advocate for YOUTHS ,maybe God lead you to this instead of inside a church ???
Children/youths today need all the help they can get to lead them into the right direction to achive everything great in life that they can , I feel you would be a good light to lead that way , hope you carry on with your interest .
Have a great week Andre :}


Andre said...

@ saved_sinner: Thanks for your comments Rob. When I heard one of the kids tell me about how they couldn't find ONE adult outside of the center who listened to them, my heart sunk. On the one hand, I was grateful to God for blessing me to be around adults who cared about me (even if it was because I assimilated into their culture). But on the other, I couldn't believe his testimonial. Sad indeed.

@ HC: While I've got some major issues with Juan Williams, he was on the track with his book. There are many precipitous things to consider when examing the state of youth, Black America, or any other subgroups that he didn't consider. But, I get your point.

But, ultimately, I'm with you. It's time to make things happen. Good stuff, HC.

@ KC: Sadly, too many people only see what they WANT to see. This is unnerving, given the direction our youth are going in. By the way, the copyright thing was just my goofing off (as if anybody would EVER steal my stuff. Some of my views are even too radical for me!)

@ Greeny: Hey, my green-eyed queen. Interesting question you raised. I always joke about how I don't like kids. But, when it comes down to being there for them, that's a job that belongs to all of us. As the Bible teaches us, "the harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few."

My little secret: Once I get myself pretty well off (in the next few years or so), I plan on adopting. But, you didn't hear that from me...:-)