Lest we “demonize” teenagers in our city, we must look at ourselves first. Young people need hope and hope is most often formulated in a family. Mom is working two jobs to make ends meet. Dad is A.W.O.L. in far too many cases. We adults have failed them! If young people don’t have families, they will find one and often that family is the ‘gang’ where one is accepted and gains a level of security that a family should be providing. Then you start a cycle. Some have called it urban nihilism. “Life has no meaning.” “I won’t live to be 25.” “I can’t get a job and I’m failing in school.” If those are the thoughts going through a young person’s head, then firing a gun or engaging in violence is no big deal…it’s just the way it is.
The faith community is called a Family — the Family of God — and our role in urban America is to not only support and build up nuclear families but to stand in the gap when a family is not there for our young people. All over Memphis, this is happening: Churches, synagogues and faith based non profits like STREETS, Memphis Athletic Ministries, Repairing the Breach, Leadership Empowerment Center (formerly Youth Vision), G.A.N.G and dozens of others are mentoring young people, stepping in as role models and giving hope and meaning to life. Can we do more? Absolutely. Must we do more? You bet! We need an “army” of loving, caring adults to stand in the gap for these young people. And there are opportunities everywhere to engage. So, don’t demonize our youth, engage with them! Your life and theirs will be changed.