When I hear the phrase “my brother’s keeper” my mind first goes to the Bible story, and then quickly goes to the song by the late Rich Mullins, who wrote his song “My Brother’s Keeper” while on a Native American reservation. Though Rich has been gone since the tragic accident in 1997, the organization he worked with is still making a difference in the lives of Native American youth.
I saw some of the President’s speech regarding his “My Brother’s Keeper” plan, and it was encouraging that he included “all the faith communities” as part of the answer for the struggles of young minority males, along with government, business and philanthropic groups. They “all have a responsibility to help,” he said. But when I read the actual text of the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, in the very long list of Task Force members, there was no representative of any faith community listed. In fact, for an initiative that takes it’s name right out of the Bible (a word for word quote), there is surprisingly no mention of faith at all.
As a president who has made much of his religious faith, this surprised me, but even more so in view of all the countless effective faith-based programs that have already been doing (for decades) exactly what the President is promoting.
Part of the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative is to research what has been working, and if the President is truly interested (as he says he is) about involving the “faith community,” then it would be wise to see what churches have already been doing for minority youth. A quick internet search can find some terrific programs worth researching, so if the Task Force wants to know what works, here are a few good examples:
URBAN YOUTH IMPACT (West Palm Beach, FL) is an award-winning Christian-based outreach program for urban youth in West Palm Beach, Florida. They have an after-school academic program, healthy work opportunities, parenting classes, positive social events throughout the year. UYI workers spent over 9,000 hours tutoring students last year, with over 80% improving or achieving grade level. Begun in 1988 by Christian golf pro Joe Hobbs, 93% of all donations go to actual program services for inner city youth, with just a tiny fraction going to fund-raising and administration.
I liked what I read about CALVARY COMMUNITY CHURCH (Hampton, Virginia). Writer Wil LaVeist highlighted the church's mentoring programs for young black men. One year ago, the church began its successful "Man Training" program, a 10-week program to help "boys become men through the training of their minds, bodies and souls." Initially intended for young men in their church, soon they had at least 100 applications for enrollment from families outside the church seeking help for their young men. They began with a "boot camp" that addressed the whole person, mind, body and spirit, relying heavily on male volunteer mentors to be a weekly part of the lives of these young men. LaVeist says that "Moral and spiritual values, respect for authority, academic excellence, camaraderie and being an extension of the family are what the program emphasizes." Like most churches, they have a youth program, however they also have their E.P.I.C. Young Adult Program in which they plug in their young people as soon as they graduate from high school, to help them "utilize their gifts while under the mentorship of young adult leaders" and "providing associations and networking opportunities for them with godly peers and role models."
BRONXCONNECT is part of the Bronx Church Mentoring Outreach program, based in New York City. It “is a faith-based, community-based alternative-to incarceration youth program focused around mentoring services.” They serve young people, ages 12-18, partnering with several local churches and government services, to prevent offending youths from going back into the correctional system, achieving an 83% success rate since the year 2000 when they began to work with the local court system. Their primary work is matching these young with trained mentors for a one-on-one relationship that makes a difference.
Doug Banister, pastor of the All Souls Church (Knoxville, TN) began serving urban youth by raising money to begin the EMERALD YOUTH SWIM TEAM. He realized that urban youth were being shut out of the active swim sports programs in his area because of a lack of finances and transportation. With the help of dozens of volunteers, they began the first inner city swim team in Knoxville, which currently has about 50 kids. They raised money for swimming gear, rides and meals for urban kids, coordinating efforts of other local teams, churches and even the University of Tennesee swim team. Their work is part of the Emerald Youth Foundation, “a Christian, urban youth ministry that serves more than 1,350 urban young people each year” in the Knoxville area, joining together 21 churches and Christian organizations to raise youth up to “love Jesus Christ and become effective leaders who help renew their communities.”
As I said, I do appreciate President Obama's initiative, calling upon people and all kinds of organizations to be the "brother's keeper" to at risk youth and families, however churches have been doing this for 2000 years since the Leader of our global Task Force called upon us to feed the hungry, help the sick, and take care of our neighbors in many ways.
We have been our brother's (and sister's) keeper for a very long time.