The homicide epidemic among young black men on Kansas City’s east side is leaving a generation of grieving teens in its wake, and some in the crime-fighting community feel black churches need to change their message to better help these young people deal with their loss.
At a community meeting at the Lucile H. Bluford library at 31st and Prospect on June 2, KCUR’s Peggy Lowe learned about efforts to introduce therapy from professional counselors to help teenage siblings of murdered victims.
Alvin Brooks, founder of the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime, is a veteran anti-crime activist, politician, and former policeman. In a follow-up interview, Brooks said the black community needs to accept therapy and grief counseling as a means to serve young family members who have lost siblings.
But he also pointed a finger at black churches. Historically, a mourning family turns to the church for support and consolation. To maintain this tradition among youth, Brooks said the message from pastors needs to change. Sometimes they do more harm than good while trying to provide comfort.
“We have to be very careful when we speak with young folks, our youth, who don’t have a religious foundation,” Brooks said. Sometimes, traditional eulogies leave youngsters confused," he said.
“I heard a pastor say once ‘God has reached down and plucked the most beautiful rose and brought him home.’ If he’s talking about your sister or brother that raises more questions than it answers,” Brooks said.
During the community meeting, Brooks told the young people not to take those eulogies literally. A young person may question his or her own self-worth if told “the most beautiful rose” — their sibling — has been sent to be with God, he said. In a confused emotional state, Brooks said it would be natural for the surviving sibling to wonder ‘Why was my sibling chosen by God? What does that say about me?’
Additionally, to tell a teenage brother or sister that a sibling has been “called home” to God begs the question: what kind of God would do that? Brooks said this can turn young people off the church at a time they need it the most.
The vast majority of homicides occur among the African-American community, particularly among black men. The Ad Hoc Group Against Crime has received some grant money for professional grief counselors to work with the community’s youth. And while some in the black church understand this new approach is necessary, Brooks said many preachers are still practicing a ministry that doesn’t work in today’s violent times.
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