I witnessed a struggle today that involved a ten-year-old black boy. It was harrowing to watch. I was riveted… waiting to see how it would turn out. It wasn’t a fist fight at the elementary school… it wasn’t a drug deal gone bad on the street corner… it wasn’t gang- related or involving gun violence… it was a struggle to choose between right and wrong.
It was time for our weekly Simba group. For some of the kids it is a struggle every week… a choice between going with Mr. Chris to learn what it means to be a strong black man, or to go to elective class or recess… invariably a time of little supervision and uncontrolled behavior. Each week they face the same struggle. I rejoice in those who choose to engage in positive growth, but I grieve for those who squander the opportunity, whose lives are filled with negativity, little hope and unrestrained behavior, at home and at school. I don’t know if I can help you understand. In too many public school settings the black boy is endangered… from issues stemming from low expectations of academics and behavior, to unhealthy permissiveness out of fear, ignorance or indifference. Black boys are falling through the cracks everyday in our school system and institutional efforts to plug the leak have been ineffective.
This boy knew the implications of the choice he was making, to stay or to go. He and I had discussed in great detail the investment to be made in himself by coming with me, learning to be the Black man he could be. But his friend was calling… literally pulling him to go with him. His friend had passed on the opportunity to be in our group (the only boy in his class to do so), yet every week he looks at us with yearning eyes when we assemble. He refuses to submit to the criteria for group participation: consistent attendance and good classroom behavior. As one teacher told me, “He won’t go with you because he knows you won’t let him get away with anything.”
So this boy was tugging on my guy’s arm, saying “come with me”, “let’s go have some fun…” But he was really saying: “let’s go where we can do what we want, and no one can/will control us”. Sounds a lot like Adam and Eve’s choice in the garden doesn’t it? The choice between chaotic lives grounded in disobedience, or the freedom that only comes through obedience. I don’t make the boys come to group; it is their choice. We play games, have snacks and have fun, but we do work. The boy struggled with his decision… tears came to his eyes. I implored and pleaded with him… he’s a bright kid with lots of potential, but sometimes the pull to be “bad” is just so strong! Finally I said, “Just come with me for five minutes and if you don’t want to stay you can leave.” He relented and came. He ended up staying for the whole session. A battle fought and won in a military campaign could not have been more visceral than this one. “For you struggle not against flesh and blood… but against the spiritual rulers of darkness.” (Ephesians 6:12 ).
There is a war going on for the minds and souls of our black children. The best and brightest are often drawn to the allure of unrestrained behavior, choosing environments where there is low expectation and no accountability so that they can do what they want, when they want, defying authority and laughing at consequences. How can they resist who are marginalized through poverty and despair? But the Lord loves them all, and He has a plan for each and every one. In our ministry we fight the good fight for the minds and souls of our black children. The prospect often looks bleak and hopeless, but we know the victory is ours in Christ. Given a choice, given the opportunity, black boys will choose the good. If Christ is in the mix… if He is lifted up, He will draw them all to Himself (John 12.32).