"Where were you when the lights went out?"
That's the question that resonated in my heart as I considered the plight of so many minority and underprivileged youth in our country. Every day, our American youth are being destroyed because of a lack of education, lack of boundaries, lack of leadership, lack of support, all of which leads to a lack of hope. Often these hopeless children are drawn to a life of crime, violence, and gang activity. For them, the lights have gone out.
And what about us? What about all the Christians who stand idly by and do nothing because we are busy, have our own lives and responsibilities? After all, we take care of our own kids. Those children over there are not our problem. To justify our lack of compassion, we lash out against poor parenting, failing schools, broken systematic structures, and government programs; there is more than enough blame to go around. We point to everyone else's sins but our own. We don't ask the question "What can I do?"
Edmund Burke once wrote, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." When we do nothing about the injustices facing our youth, sin triumphs and the devil wins. I am thankful that Dr. Kimberlee Johnson has taken the time to share her action plans and present a challenge to the church about what we can do to support our struggling youth.
Dr. Johnson, can you please take a few minutes to tell us about yourself and your ministry?
I am an associate minister at Tasker Street Missionary Baptist Church in South Philadelphia. I am the first woman to be licensed and ordained there, and that was after a 130-some-year history. I also serve at Eastern University; I'm on the faculty. I chair the Urban Studies Department, and I direct our Center for Urban Youth Development. Through that Center for Urban Youth Development, we sponsor the O, YES! Conference, Our Youth Enlightened about Sex, which is a Christian conference for middle school and high school students about topics related to sex, sexuality, and relationships. Additionally, I have a passion for juvenile justice.
Thank you for pursuing justice and supporting people in your local church and community. Your life is an encouragement to all of us to simply do what we can with the passions, gifts, and resources God has given us. Given your expertise, what is the church's role, both individually and collectively, to bring reform to the juvenile justice system?
First of all, the church needs to be awakened to the issues involving juvenile justice. I think a lot of Christians, particularly those in poor, minority, or urban communities, recognize that there are people around us who are going to jail all the time, but we're not able to understand the cause of this present reality.