Empowerment Through Urban Christian Education
I am a product of the urban church and the urban public school system. I am proud that I didn’t have to go outside of the city to get the ministry, education, mentoring, coaching, accountability, and standards of excellence I needed to become the empowered leader I am today. There are some that say educational empowerment and access is the Civil Rights issue of today. With all of the other challenges facing our nation right now, I will simply agree that it is one of many. Even with that stated, it is important for quality education to be delivered to urban children and youth; especially those living in under-resourced communities. At World Impact, we are committed to quality education among the urban poor and initiatives which supplement this important focus. I believe this focus ought to be a high priority for all urban churches on some level.
In many cities across the nation, urban families are choosing educational options for their children that lead to them being bussed to schools in the suburbs. Because of my experiences as a student in the urban public schools—serving as a basketball coach in the urban public schools, and pastoring a church that facilitated after school programs in the city—I strongly believe that urban young people should not have to leave their communities to find educational empowerment. At World Impact we have over 43 years of history providing a holistic approach to urban ministry which includes educational empowerment. Urban ministry for us has been about Bible Clubs and Teen Outreach Centers as well as Homework Clubs and the development of Urban Schools.
Our Homework Clubs provide a safe and loving environment for urban young people to get their homework done. This time also includes meals and snacks. It’s challenging to learn if you’re hungry and if your home doesn’t provide an environment free of the distractions that keep a person from learning. World Impact’s Los Angeles Christian School and Newark Christian School having been providing Christian-based, urban education to elementary and middle school students for a number of years. In recent years we have also been running the Fredrick Douglass School in Chester, Pennsylvania. Our schools include urban missionary staff serving as teachers and administrators. Why is this important? Because it means the majority of our school staff live in the communities where they teach and desire to develop a deeper relationship with urban children and their families. In many cases this type of missional and relational approach leads to both empowerment and transformation.
This kind of commitment is vital today. For many of the urban poor, their destiny is set by the third or fifth grade. I have heard it said that many urban children who are below grade level in reading and math at this point in life have a greater chance of becoming caught up in the criminal justice system. I realize as a Pastor, that it is extremely important for urban young people to know Christ at an early age and show strong competency in math and reading at that same stage of life.
All urban churches can play a role. You don’t have to start urban schools like we have at World Impact. You can simply start a tutoring program at your church or at the nearest urban public school. Get involved on committees and attend meetings that provide you the opportunity to advocate for quality urban education and hold schools accountable. When I was an urban pastor in Minneapolis, I simply sat down with school principals and district administrators and asked how our church could serve them. I was told on many occasions how they wished that more churches would get involved.
Let us commit ourselves in greater ways to urban children and youth through initiatives of urban educational empowerment. This holistic approach to urban ministry can bring about significant opportunities for transformation.