As a nation, we are becoming increasingly more aware of different ethnic groups within our communities. Within the next 20 years, the US will demographically shift from a predominantly white society to a predominantly minority society, but this awareness often comes hand in hand with very negative reporting. Unarmed black men threaten a predominantly white police force. Middle eastern immigrants are often referred to as extremists or even terrorists. The Latino community is continually referred to as “illegal” and job stealers. These narratives are routinely told and reacted to, despite being over-simplifications of extremely complex situations.
Due to the rise of social media, it is almost impossible for youth in the United States to ignore these narratives. Even if they live in a predominantly white, middle-class area. The need to be aware of racism in the US and how it manifests differently in different communities has become an important topic of conversation, but one that is often brushed under the carpet.
The youth group of 1st Lutheran church in North Muskegon, however, has taken a different approach. The group of predominantly white teenagers, in a city that is 94% white, decided that if they were to progress in the world, they needed to broaden their horizons. The youth group decided to connect with our Youth Empowerment Program (YEP), to start the important conversation of race relations and to learn from the experiences of those who encounter racism in their daily lives. “As a young woman going into the professional world, it is important for me to realize that the world that I see isn't the same world that other people see,” says Madi from 1st Lutheran.
The YEPs jumped on the idea, eager to share their experiences as Latinx, Black and White youth living and learning together in Downtown Muskegon, an area that is over 50% non-White. YEP Miranda reflected on racism at a recent workshop: “It's really prevalent in our society and it’s relevant to what's going on in my life and the lives of people I care about.”
It’s inspiring to see teenagers from different social and ethnic backgrounds walk through the maze of race relations together. “I am learning to look at all aspects of racism--not just what I have experienced. When I hear about racism I always thought it was a ‘black vs white’ thing, but I am learning there are other people who are being discriminated against, like Hispanics and Arabs too,” YEP Keyvon explained. “We all have something to learn and share here.”
At Community enCompass we are inspired by these youth leaders who are challenging all of us to engage more deeply in hard conversations towards healing and reconciliation.