Brandon Winstead is a good friend and passionate leader in Youth Ministry, particularly youth ministry across the racial and ethnic margins of our society. I asked him for a reflection on Trayvon Martin and I am pleased to publish it. Brandon, along with YouthFront and NTS, will host lead an important panel of youth workers around the theme of youth and race at NTS on Nov. 12th 2013.
Trayvon is Dead: A Reflection and Challenge
Trayvon Martin is dead. He was killed at seventeen on a street in the city I was born in and he will never return. He is lost to space and time and will never come back. He is gone. He is dead and we know that he can now be added to all the other stats that outline the loss of young black life in the United States. We know this because the media covered the trial and acquittal of the white man who killed him—George Zimmerman— with Super Bowl like fanfare. The coverage was constantly broadcasted to our television sets and Internet sites in a way that has pushed people, once again, to discuss how racism and violence shapes the life of youth in the United States.
Yet, that may be an overstated assumption of mine. It may be an exaggeration because many folks in the field of youth ministry (and here I am speaking to those who work in predominantly white congregations) feel like addressing racism and violence is a moot point both in their ministries and for the youth and congregations they serve. If not stated explicitly, the message is still communicated implicitly through silence. Even now, amidst the aftermath of Zimmerman’s acquittal, few of my peers converse about the case and discuss how such an action impacts the social and religious lives of the youth and churches we serve.
And yet, it does. First, if youth are going to grow in their faith and see the church as culturally and socially relevant, then we should discuss how the church can passionately act on behalf of those young people who suffer from the injustices of racism and violence. In other words, if our ministries are going to remain religiously viable to youth in a multicultural society, then we need to promote God’s justice in real and tangible ways by letting them know that the church values their well being and safety and that all youth are loved and valued by God. As youth pastors and workers God has called us to be caretakers of the young who suffer from racism and violence. That is the crux of my argument, namely that we should speak out when children are gunned down by a culture shaped by the matrix of violence and racism—whether they be black, white, Asian, or Hispanic—and we should do so because they are created in God’s image and because God’s justice in a multicultural society demands that keep children safe. If we do not, can we really say we are concerned with reaching out and protecting all of God’s children? If we do not, aren’t we really stating that God and our ministries are only concerned about addressing the plight of white youth?
Let those questions marinate and then let us again reflect on the fact that Trayvon Martin is dead and that another young person has been lost to the forces of violence and racism. Then, let us reflect on how Christ has called us, through the church, to testify to his love by working towards eliminating such violence and keeping God’s children safe against unjust violence. And after that, let’s go to work. Let us pray and then mine the Scriptures and historical voices that will give us spiritual and theological direction as we move forward. (For all you Wesleyans out there you might want to begin with reading the life and works of those like Richard Allen, Freeborn Garrettson, Daniel Payne, Mary McLeod Bethune, Amanda Berry Smith, Charles Johnson, Joe Edwards, and James Earl Massey to name just a few). Based on our reading and conversations, let us then develop ministry programs and work together with civic and non-profit organizations to alleviate the realities of racism and youth violence in all our communities—no matter the size or enormity of the harm. As we do, we will bring deeper fruition to God’s justice for those in our care and will give deeper credence to the witness of Christ’s love in a diverse and multicultural society.