by Jeremy Langill, Director of Youth Ministry
Isaac Ruelas’ and my goal is always to integrate deep relationality, spirituality, learning, and fun into an engaging and thought-provoking theme for our Wednesday night youth program. This year we decided to delve into multi-culturalism, and to begin the work of really exposing our youth to the many “isms” that continue to operate in American society and culture today.
After spending many weeks learning some tools to engage in this work, we began to explore topics and themes that relate to real “isms” operating in America today. In January, the All Saints Gun Violence Prevention Task Force gave an outstanding presentation to our junior and senior high youth. What stood out for me was that so many of our youth knew so little about gun violence in America and the different communities that it impacts. They were surprised to learn that the vast majority of gun incidents take place in the home, and that most victims of gun violence know the perpetrator personally (in many cases, sadly, a family member) .
What they learned that evening is different from the narrative told in society and the media: that you should have great fear of people who are different than you because they are out to hurt you and your family. Our youth were able to see the insidious racism embedded in the story of gun violence in America, the false narrative that young men of color are the primary perpetrators of gun violence when, in reality, that is not the case.
In conjunction with all the great work being done on the issue of economic justice here at All Saints, we planned an evening designed to engage, on a practical level, the reality of income and wealth in America today. Every Wednesday night, before youth group begins, we host a youth dinner—twice a month our parents provide a potluck, and the other two weeks a ministry from the Parish provides food. Normally the youth come in, take a seat, pray, and then walk through the line to receive dinner.
This time, as the youth came in, they received a piece of paper. After every youth had received one, we invited the 6 youth (representing the one percent) who had a pink slip of paper to sit down at a lavishly decorated table, where they were served food first (and multiple times) before anyone else got to eat. Next, we invited the 10 youth (representing our middle class) who had received a green slip of paper to walk through the dinner line and then take a seat at a table we had provided for them. After the one percent and middle class were taken care of, everyone else got to go through line. They received a smaller portion and were forced to sit on the floor to eat their dinner. Needless to say, the exercise accomplished its goal: revealing to them a great sense of how unfair and unjust it was that the vast majority of youth (over 30 people) were treated so differently than the very few who represented the one percent.
After dinner, our youth headed upstairs where they were divided into six small groups. Each group was given an envelope and told that they were going to be designing and building an imaginary city. Inside their envelope were cash and a building list. Their task was to build the best city possible given the resources they had. The catch was that every city started with a different amount of cash—on top of that, each city had to seek approval from the City Inspector (Isaac) in order to build a dwelling—and on top of that, there were city inspectors and police officers “checking up” on their progress, treating each group differently based on how wealthy their city was.
In the Fall we spent several weeks looking at sexism in America today, and were very engaged in the Black Lives Matter protests here in Pasadena in December. You can read about them in my Advent reflections (at ascideas.org). Ultimately, our goal is to create spiritually and intellectually informed and engaged young people who are ready to tackle the real world problems that all of us live in—young men and women who are ready to think and be positive difference makers.