This summer, the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other unarmed Black individuals at the hands of police officers confronted the nation with the undeniable truth about systemic racism.
It was no surprise that the news reports, videos and social media posts reached the Black teenagers I teach.
As a youth team leader, I was confronted with the significant question of how ministers should biblically address racial trauma with Black youth.
In my search for resources, I found many designed to start a conversation about racism.
While I am delighted that churches have made efforts to educate white young people on racism, I am concerned about the lack of spiritual resources for addressing racism with Black youth.
Part of racial reconciliation is not only educating those who are unaware of police brutality but also ministering to those who live with the effects of it.
Therefore, I am proposing that a proper strategy to address the concerns of racism with Black youth involves experience, expression and exploration.
Black students have a high probability of experiencing or witnessing racism within the context of their school, workplace or neighborhood.
A 2019 study published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology found that Black teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 experience racial discrimination on an average of five times per day.
With the magnitude of discrimination posed both online and offline, it is important to give students the opportunity to share about their experiences.
One of the most devastating aspects of racism involves the silence surrounding the inflicted suffering.
Many people endure racism in silence without having the opportunity to vocalize what happened. This is especially true for young people who experience racism from authority figures.
Silence cultivates secrecy and loneliness, which is one of the leading causes of suicide. Enduring such circumstances without the chance to discuss it can make people feel powerless.
In creating space for students to discuss racial incidents, they are able to exercise agency, name the incident for what it was and receive affirmation that they are not alone.
Young people should be able to express frustration without fearing how they will be perceived for having such emotions.
Many are not comfortable doing so because they have not experienced church as a safe place to vocalize their sentiments.
Commonly, when a student expresses anger, ministers will quote “be angry and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26) rather than giving youth the space for free expression.
Gaslighting their concerns leads students to believe that God cares more about preventing their anger than bringing healing for the sin that has been committed against their community.
It is important for Black students to know that it is okay to feel a wide range of emotions, including anger.
Ministers should point to the places in Scripture, such as the psalms of lament, where people express their anger and sorrow in healthy ways.
These texts invite students to articulate the rawness of their circumstances while reaffirming the identity and character of God in the midst of deep sorrow.
In my struggle to cope with racism, I have found a major source of relief in the stories of those who endured it before me.
There is comfort in knowing I am not the first person who has experienced racism or been heartbroken by it. My comfort does not lie in the trauma my forebears endured but in their resilience.
We recently conducted a youth Zoom call where I invited a deaconess from our congregation to join us and share some of her experiences growing up in the 1950’s.
As she shared, students asked questions about how they should handle racially traumatic experiences they are contending with now. In exploring how those who have gone before us have processed racial trauma, there is much wisdom and hope to gain.
My ultimate source of hope lies in the truth that Jesus is one of my forebears.
In Jesus and the Disinherited, Howard Thurman describes how Jesus experienced the difficulties and discrimination that came with living as a Jewish man in a predominantly Greco-Roman society.
Jesus knows what it means to grieve death. He even knows what it means to suffer to the point of death. Above all, he defeated death.
This ultimately means we are not alone. Our healing is not predicated upon how many people change their ways, but on our willingness to engage the Comforter who binds up our wounds.
Ministers should create space for students to share their experiences, listen well to their expressions of passion, and invite students on a journey to explore the hope and healing that can be found in our ultimate forebear, Jesus Christ.
Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing series focused on engaging the emerging generations of faith leaders. If you know anyone who might be interested, encourage them to submit their article for consideration to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A writer who is passionate about sharing the stories of those who often go unnoticed and discipling the next generation, she holds a Master of Divinity degree from Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, Texas.