Each weekday we go to our different ministry sites where we come alongside partners and help with various tasks or programs for people in their neighborhoods. This work often involves serving kids and we get to observe how our partners are leading in community development and living out the 3 R’s. To help us understand the systemic and historical injustices in one of our sites, Nickerson Gardens in Watts, we watched and discussed a mind-blowing and heartbreaking documentary called Crips and Bloods: Made In America. The film explains how policies by those in power in LA have affected the African-American communities and created the environment in which the gangs formed. Some of the policies included: housing covenants to keep “undesirables” out of white neighborhoods (enforced by police), the war on crime/drugs which meant brutal treatment and over-incarceration of black men with disproportionately high sentencing for crack cocaine and other non-violent crimes, and failed promises for development by powers outside the community (in the typical needs-based approach), among other factors. Instead of the powers that be thinking “maybe we’re doing the wrong approach,” the gang members became the scapegoat and they think “this just proves they are unredeemable.” With many homes broken up by systemic issues, many fathers and civil rights heroes in prison or dead, and disenfranchised by white society, gangs were formed for belonging. Some of the former gang members said they “joined the gang for protection, love, unity, to be part of a family,” and they “got tired of being a victim and wanted to be a victor for once.” It is a complex problem and hard to fully explain or comprehend, but one that is definitely rooted in a history of unjust systems and policies. God calls us to see gang members as humans with the possibility of redemption and to advocate for systems and policies that promote restorative justice.
One local ministry site I want to highlight is the one I’ve been at which is Faith in Christ, a church and community center in South Central LA, which has been lead by Pastor Joe and his wife Gwynne brown for decades. One aspect of Relocation that must be emphasized is the importance of not coming in as outside saviors, but coming in looking for what God is already doing through the locals in bringing his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Joe and Gwynne’s house is attached to the church, and their services to the community include food and resource distribution, hosting local kids for activities and Vacation Bible School, and sheltering the homeless. They work and serve tirelessly and without any other staff, they are often are in need of more volunteers. Gwynne and Pastor Joe are truly saints that I want to learn from.
We have very gifted students here from different Athletes in Action chapters who are going into careers like public policy and law. Seeing them be heartbroken over what they see as ignored injustices, it gives me chills to think about the potential for what these students who have so much power and empathy might do with their lives and careers to promote Shalom and restoration, drawing from what we’ve experienced here together.
University of California- Berkeley