News from the 2009 US Census tells us that over half of the US population is living in cities. At one time there was a definitive, “other side of the tracks”; this is no longer the case. Areas that were traditionally “the suburbs” are now being “urbanized.” Whether churches are reaching out to those considered “at-risk,” or they’re coming to our door, working with youth is becoming a diverse population. Traditionally “urban” issues have crept into the suburbs and visa versa. Join Urban Youth Worker’s Institute as we present: “Through Our Eyes: A Day In the Street With An Urban Youth.“ In partnership with Group, this series is an introduction to all the pieces of life a student from the city might witness in a single day. As those who work with youth, it is our responsibility to understand our kids and the issues they face, whoever they might be and however they enter our lives.

Walk Where I Walk

Michael Smith is your typical middle or high school student, with one exception. He’s one of the millions of students who live in an urban setting. The term urban has taken on many definitions, however most would say that urban areas are made up of many different races, cultures, and socio-economic backgrounds. Michael’s also one of the 71 percent of students in the city who come from a female-led household. During his summers he spends the majority of his time searching for employment, to no avail. Although his mother works hard, her wage does not always cover the bills. So Michael wanders the streets looking for something to do.

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Now that school’s in, Michael wakes up every morning to the same reality of many of his urban student counterparts, namely high crime, a lack of good public schools, poverty, and other related issues. Crime is one of those challenges facing urban students. According to the center for domestic violence, 88 percent of urban students have witnessed someone physically hit, 65 percent have witnessed someone being chased, while 36 percent have viewed a dead body. Michael was accepted into a charter school through the city’s education lottery, which only accepts a select number of students annually. The school is a much better performing school than the one in Michael’s neighborhood. However, before the first bell, he has already taken two different buses to get to his school. He arrives at school physically and emotionally exhausted.

Michael readily admits that he feels depressed. He isn’t alone in this. Many urban teens report feeling depressed and abused. Michael’s depression is brought on because of the abuse that he suffered at the hands of his mom’s former live-in boyfriend. According to the US Census a report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds. Michael sees it as a blessing, however, to be in the charter school. Education remains a major issue in urban areas. According to a New York Times article on high school dropout rates, the graduation rate between suburban and urban students rose slightly between 1995-2005, but the gap continues to grow.

The challenges we see in urban areas are not new, however the different issues that affect urban students have become more complex. Michael’s mother requires him to call her after getting home but before beginning his homework. Her greatest fear is that he will become a statistic of the gangs that plague their neighborhood. The US Census reports that there are 24,500 gangs in the United States. After she hangs up the phone with him, she’s once again thankful that he’s made it through another day. She knows that in just the walk from the bus to his home Michael has  passed a drug dealer, a corner store where his friends hang playing dice and drinking, and a prostitute that seemed to be about his age.

In John 1:45-47, we see Jesus’ encounter with Nathaniel while on a journey to find disciples. When Nathaniel meets Jesus he replies, “Can anything good come from Nazareth.” Many scholars believe that Nazareth was just like many urban cities of today. Often when someone looks at or drives through an urban area they may think that all hope is lost. Jesus makes it very clear to Nathaniel that he appreciated his honesty. Michael and countless of other urban students need student workers to see urban areas the way Jesus saw Nathaniel—through an honest assessment of what’s going on in our urban areas.

Urban Youth Workers Institute (UYWI) exists for the soul purpose of: “Training leaders, who train leaders, who transform youth.” We seek to walk alongside youth workers who work with Urban Youth in any capacity. Maina Mwaura brings you this first article in the series. He is from the great state of Georgia. He serves as the student pastor at Greenforest Community Baptist Church in Decatur, Georgia. Maina is one of thousands of youth leaders who partner daily with UYWI. UYWI will provide over 54 one-day and half-day trainings nationally for those looking to be more effective in 2011. One will be coming to your back door soon! Check us out at www.uywi.org

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