Fostering Hope Among Black Teens
Growing up in southern Mississippi in the 1960s, Evelyn Parker clearly recalls life in a segregated world – from the “Colored Only” water fountain at Sears and Roebuck to her African American neighborhood “across the tracks” from downtown Hattiesburg.
Parker, associate professor of Christian education in Perkins School of Theology, joined her church and community in peacefully protesting injustices through boycotts, picket lines, marches – often galvanized by faith. “Prayers, songs, and sermons focused on the theme of hope – God making a way out of no way amidst the struggle for freedom and justice,” states Parker in her book, Trouble Don’t Last Always: Emancipatory Hope Among African American Adolescents (The Pilgrim Press, 2003).
Hope is a value that Parker finds consistently lacking among today’s African American youth. In interviews with her they express faith in the “sweet by-and-by” of the afterlife, but they don’t expect social change in the world, nor do they see themselves as agents of change, she says.
Segregation in the 20th century created alliances among African Americans who lived, worked, and served together toward a common goal of freedom, Parker says. “What had been a massive racial injustice is now a socioeconomic and sociopolitical injustice. African American youth today don’t have a network of church, school, and home that fosters leadership and advocacy.”
Parker has developed the concept of “emancipatory hope” as a framework for ministry with African American youth. “People who work with black teen-agers and who are interested in nurturing their spirits need to think seriously about hope – the expectation that God will change hopeless situations and that African American young people can participate in God’s vision of transformation.”
This spring Parker is training youth and adult leaders in “emancipatory hope” through partnerships with three Dallas churches that are historically African American. The training focuses on nurturing leadership in young people through worship, ministry, and community service.
“My goal is to involve young people in church worship and community service, as well as give them license to shape these areas,” she says. “I want young people to see a connection between who they are in church and who they are in the community.”
Parker plans to use this research to write another book of case studies that will provide a practical complement to Trouble Don’t Last Always.
Parker, who earned her Ph.D. from Northwestern University, joined Perkins School of Theology in 1998.
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