by Erin Hicks
I want to share two things that led to me write this article:
- On Twitter recently, I noticed that Harriet Tubman was trending. After clicking on the trend to read some of the tweets, I saw that a young African American identifying himself as a high schooler had asked the question of just who Harriet Tubman was (and he wasn’t joking).
- Today, I went to see Lee Daniels’ The Butler (a movie I recommend). I overheard an older adult say that she didn’t think that this movie was good for America because it brought up the past.
The truth of the matter is that race is a current issue in our country and in our churches. To say otherwise is foolish and turning a blind eye to an issue that should deeply matter to us Christians.
What our country did by oppressing people of color is an atrocity that cannot be forgotten. And the thing is, racism is still very much an issue. I firmly believe that we in the church must have this conversation with our youth if we are to more fully live into God’s present kingdom here on Earth.
Following the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, there was—and still is—great racial tension. While many in the black community have cried out that justice failed, there are some in the white community who are saying that not enough attention has been given to victims like Christopher Lane (the Australian baseball player killed by three black youth).
In 2008, American elected Barack Obama president, and there was a notion that this showed how America had progressed past racism. Instead, it showed me how racist our country still is. He was forced to show his birth certificate, an indignity that some still haven’t found to be enough.
Some things to consider:
- People of color make up 30% of the U.S. population, but they make up 60% of those imprisoned.
- The Bureau of Justice Statistics indicate that one in three black men can expect to go to prison at some point in their lifetime.
- The Department of Justice also noted that blacks and Hispanics are three times more likely to be searched than whites.
- The DOJ noted that African Americans are twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force by police.
- African American youth are more likely to be sentenced to adult prison.
- Students of color face harsher punishments in school than their white peers. 70% of students involved in school-related arrests or referrals are black or Hispanic.
- America’s “war on drugs” has been played out primarily in communities of color, leading to people of color being more likely to be arrested. African Americans represent 14% of regular drug users, but they represent 37% of those arrested for drug offenses. From 1980-2007, almost one in three of the 25.4 million adults arrested for drugs was African American.
- Once convicted, black offenders receive longer sentences compared to white offenders. The U.S. Sentencing Commission stated that black offenders receive sentences that are 10% longer than white offenders for the same crime. 
- A 2010 academic study found that 80% of news coverage about missing children is devoted to victims who are not black. 
In a recent interview with Parade Magazine leading up to the release of Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Oprah Winfrey says that she believes that a problem in our culture is that young people today don’t know enough about the Civil Rights Movement. Condemning the use of the n-word, Winfrey states, “You cannot be my friend and use that word around me . . . I always think of the millions of people who heard that as their last word as they were hanging from a tree.” 
Do our kids know the truth about what happened during the Civil Rights Movement and before? Do they know about the issues that are present still today? Or have we been silent, letting the schools teach them about Black History during February?
It has been 50 years since Martin Luther King, Jr’s, iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, and yet his dream has not been achieved.
Sunday mornings are known as the most divided time in America. 
Think about the various youth events to which you take your youth, and think about how much racial diversity there is at those events.
The church is not the building; the church is a people who have been set apart (Hebrews 10:10) by the Almighty God to live differently than the world.
2 Corinthians 4:5 tells us that “we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord.” So what are we preaching? What are we—with our words and our actions—telling the world about the Prince of Peace, and Lord of love?
Are we being silent? Or are we actively showing people how to love and how to share our great God’s love better with the world?
Here are some ideas to consider implementing with your group:
- Take your youth to a Civil Rights Museum and have conversations with them after. If you call ahead, you may be able to get a tour guide to show you around.
- Before going in, ask them to call out things that they know about the Civil Rights Movement. Then ask them if they would have been a part of the movement.
- Tell your kids to take their time, and to really look at the images in front of them. Ask them to put themselves in the shoes of the Civil Rights workers.
- When finished, ask them now if they would have been a part of the Civil Rights Movement after seeing what those people endured.
- Why do you think those people were willing to face beatings, prison, and death?
- What causes would you fight for, even if it meant facing beatings, prison, and death?
- Why do you think it took so long for racial equality to become real, to be implemented instead of simply laws that weren’t enforced?
- In what ways do we still fall short when it comes to racial equality?
- Break your youth up into pairs or small groups, and give them the name of a Civil Rights figure for them to read about it and then present to the group.
- Watch Lee Daniels’ The Butler with them, followed by a conversation.
- How did the movie make you feel (one word answers)?
- In what ways were people of color oppressed in the film?
- How would you feel if you were in their shoes?
- Which character in the movie did you identify with most? Why?
- What image has stuck with you? Why?
- At the beginning of the movie is the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.” The next line in that quote is: “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” How did you see the truth in that quote in the movie?
- Going off the quote from Dr. King, how can we as Christians better be love and light unto the world, to rid the world farther of hate and darkness?
- Challenge your kids to be the love and light of God in real ways, and then follow up with them the next week.
- If you hear an off-color comment (even if they declare “But it’s funny” or “My friend of that ethnicity doesn’t mind it”), make sure that they know that it’s uncalled for—and why we as Christians shouldn’t throw words around that can hurt other people, or demean or stereotype a certain race.
- Teach your kids about the Civil Rights Movement as a bible study, and discuss with them how we as Christians today can continue to make the world a place of greater equality for all of God’s children.
- Listen to Martin Luther King, Jr’s, “I Have a Dream” speech with your kids, and discuss our current shortcomings as Christians, as well as how we can better be God’s light unto the world.
What ideas do you have on having a faithful conversation about race with youth?
“The Top 10 Most Startling Faces About People of Color and Criminal Justice in the United States: A Look at the Racial Disparities Inherent in Our Nation’s Criminal-Justice System,” by the Center for American Progress: http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/news/2012/03/13/11351/the-top-10-most-startling-facts-about-people-of-color-and-criminal-justice-in-the-united-states/
“Missing Children in National News Coverage: Racial and Gender Representations of Missing Children Cases” by Seong-Jae Min and John C. Feaster: http://www.academia.edu/857391/Missing_Children_in_National_News_Coverage_Racial_and_Gender_Representations_of_Missing_Children_Cases
“From Where They Sit: Oprah Winfrey, Forest Whitaker Discuss Lee Daniels’ The Butler and Race in America” by Katherine Heintzelman: http://www.parade.com/59897/katherineheintzelman/from-where-they-sit-oprah-winfrey-forest-whitaker-discuss-lee-daniels-the-butler-and-race-in-america/
“Color-Blinded: Why 11 o’clock Sunday morning is still a mostly segregated hour.” An excerpt from Divided by Faith by Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith: http://www.gordon.edu/download/galleries/ColorBlinded.pdf