The Church's Role In Reaching Disconnected Black Youth
About Youth Hope-Builders Academy
Journey Toward the Bridges Initiative
Over the past decade (2002-2012), the Youth Hope-Builders Academy (YHBA) of Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC) has had the privilege of guiding three-hundred-fifty-six (356) talented African American and African high school youth in summer residential programs and follow-up activities of study, theological reflection, community service, and leadership. Quantitative and qualitative assessments have consistently shown these youths’ growth in their identities as Christians and as Black persons; their connections to family, church, and world; their understandings of hope and ways of overcoming impediments to hoping; as well as awareness of their gifts, opportunities, and vocational direction. They were mentored by adult mentors, and three classes of hope-builders became mentors to middle school youth. Annual Youth and Family Convocations carried out the goal of “village” building and support for youth. Reaching a widely diverse intergenerational and denominational audience of between 600-1,000 persons each year, these events centered on critical youth, family, church and community concerns; provided links between congregations, community leaders, and seminary students and faculty; and created important opportunities for parent peer mentoring. Four self-supported YHBA Units in South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, and Bermuda currently extend the ministry of the Academy globally. These units have created international connections with U.S. hope-builders through videoconferences during each summer residential program, and provided opportunities for face-to-face YHBA summits in Africa in 2005 and 2012. Subsequent YHBA summits were held in 2014 in Accra, Ghana and in 2016 at Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama.
The YHBA leaders have continued to express gratitude beyond measure for the blessings of serving Black youth and for the accomplishment of the Academy’s decade-long ministry. At the same time, we recognized that our primary efforts have focused on what may be termed “the talented tenth.” We were reminded that, in our first ten years, we had in essence, carried out W.E.B. DuBois’ 1903 position that the promise of Black people lay in the development of leadership of “the Talented Tenth. . . of developing the Best of this race” of Black people. Although recognition, affirmation, and opportunities for bright youth is warranted and needed, there is great need for attention to others! As we approached a new YHBA decade, we were convinced of the necessity of opportunities for a wider number of our youth to:
Assure for themselves a valued ethnic-cultural and Christian identity;
Develop a theological understanding of and ways to practice the Christian lifestyle and leadership;
Move toward hope-building Christian vocation according to their gifts and interests.