Are you a freshman in high school? What were your assumptions about high school before you got there? Were you afraid? Nervous? Excited? What have you discovered since the start of the school year? What kinds of things are helping you to adjust?
Whatever your responses to the questions above, I bet you can still use some advice from upperclassmen who have been in your shoes. Inteen and UrbanFaith recently assembled a diverse group of veteran high school students and asked them to share their memories of freshman year and their advice to new high-schoolers on how to navigate that all-important first year.
Take a look at this video and see what this group of high school students had to say about their experience during their first year of high school. Then let us know what you think in the comments section below.
BLUES SINGERS: Until their departure last night, Howard University's Afro-Blue turned heads with their tight, melodic sounds on NBC's "The Sing-Off."
“In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (KJV)
As I reflect on this Thanksgiving holiday, I can’t avoid thinking about many of the difficult things I’ve endured in the last 12 months.
Five months ago, I lost a part-time job in church ministry, a job in which I learned a lot, grew a lot, made a lot of great relationships, and felt a such a keen sense of calling and belonging that it became a core part of my identity.
Less than a week ago, I lost another part-time job in public speaking, a job in which I learned a lot, grew a lot, made a lot of great relationships, and felt such a keen sense of calling and belonging that it became a core part of my identity.
In both cases, I was immediately aware of some of the logistical benefits of freeing that time up to pursue other things, but that knowledge did nothing to blunt the sting of loss.
Losing those jobs hurt, and hurt bad.
Times like these, I have a hard time giving thanks.
Until, that is, I remember that many of the things I’m currently thankful for now — areas of success or blessing or peaceful satisfaction … these things have all been intimately intertwined with events and seasons of crushing pain and humbling defeat.
Struggles embattled give way to humility embraced, which leads to victory empowered.
Because this is beginning to sound a bit too much like a motivational poster, let me give you an example.
While I was on staff at my last church, I developed a technique to leading worship music that helped to compensate for a lack of a consistent band. It involved creating and replaying accompaniment tracks in the form of patterns, which helped me with all of my multitasking (leading vocals, leading the band, directing the singers, et cetera). I got pretty good at it, and when I realized that there were no existing resources to help others do the same thing, I decided to start one.
This was a pivotal decision for me, because it represented a strategic convergence of so many of my interests. Beginning this work, I felt as though I’d finally identified my calling from God. I was excited, motivated, and full of vision.
The irony of the situation, however, was that despite the fact that the genesis of my idea flowed out of my passion for multicultural corporate worship music, the logistical and emotional demands of my church job were such that I was unable to make much headway on my idea. So being asked to resign was, while difficult and painful, quite beneficial to the long-term success of my entrepreneurial ministry venture. It was, in many ways, the best-case scenario — despite the fact that it felt like my world was coming to an end.
And believe me, I was among the legion of fans shocked and offended by that last outcome, reading Ben Folds‘ explanation did little to assuage my anger. That Conan thing was sad and ridiculous, but this Afro-Blue thing feels like a travesty.
Yet, as I look back on that whole Tonight Show brouhaha, I can tell that Conan has become better for it. Conan himself was able to articulate this painful-yet-positive dynamic when he said the following:
There are few things more liberating in this life than having your worst fear realized.… it’s not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right, your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound reinvention.
My man Coco said these words last June during his commencement speech at Dartmouth College, an ironic note since Afro-Blue was eliminated from The Sing-Off in favor of The Dartmouth Aires, the Ivy League show choir from Hanover. And I have no doubt that the men and women of Afro-Blue, the pride of Howard University and DC’s finest, will continue to exhibit the poise, heart and talent that propelled them to their fourth-place showing on the megahit NBC a cappella singing competition.
I’m hopeful, of course, and not just for the obvious reason that all of the singers in Afro-Blue still have a tremendous future in music ahead of them (especially lead vocalist Danielle Withers).
I’m hopeful because, in the grand scheme of things, God can and does use all things to take his children and mold them into the people that He wants and calls them to be. And the extent to which we become more like Him is the extent to which we submit to His will, which sometimes requires profound heartbreak.
TOO YOUNG: On Sept. 24, 2009, Derrion Albert became the innocent victim of mob violence as he walked home from school.
Two years ago, on Sept. 24, 2009, a mob of teenagers attacked and killed a young man outside a Christian community center on the south side of Chicago.
Derrion Albert, 16, had been an honors student at Fenger High School before his death. He died outside the Agape Community Center in Roseland, seemingly caught in the middle of a gang fight that had nothing to do with him.
Two years after Derrion Albert’s death, the youth violence epidemic continues in many inner cities. On Monday, Sept. 12, a family friend of Derrion Albert was shot and killed on the south side of Chicago. Alexander McDonald, 23, was the father of 2-year-old Jaylen. He was shot in the head on his way back from a funeral, cutting short his plans to graduate from college and marry his fiancée, according to ABC News.
The next day, 14-year-old Brian DeLeon was brutally beaten into a coma in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago. His horrified girlfriend Dayana Vazquez found him bleeding on the sidewalk. She told the Chicago Tribune, “He didn’t talk to gangbangers. All he did was play soccer. He wanted to be a professional soccer player.”
And yet these stories are only recent examples of the daily gang violence in America’s inner cities, with traumatic repercussions for urban youth.
Ministering amidst gang violence
The Agape Community Center, part of Campus Crusade for Christ’s Here’s Life Inner City Chicago, has been serving the Roseland community for more than 30 years. Their staff came to Albert’s aid after the beating.
Milton Massie, director of Here’s Life Inner City Chicago, declined an interview, explaining that his staff wanted to put the tragedy behind them and move forward.
Massie wrote in an e-mail:
We have sought and have experienced some level of healing. The last two years have been very difficult and painful as you might imagine. I am not really interested in talking more about this tragic and sadly “normal” state of violence in our community.
We still believe God and HIS Gospel is THE ANSWER. We must remain faithful, prayerful, and willing to endure the “hardships” that come with ministry in the “urban context”. His message is not ineffective. We as many in ministry in the U.S. (urban, rural, and suburban) are dealing with the “waxing cold” of “mankind’s heart.”
It is our responsibility to “keep our face to the plow.” His message of love and discipleship found in the “Great Commandment” and the “Great Commission” (Matthew 22:38-40; 28:18-20) [is] still vital, powerful, relevant, and effective (Romans 1:16)! That is how we address plight of our neighborhood and those are my comments.
UrbanFaith has added links to biblical references.
In an interview with UrbanFaith editor Edward Gilbreath in 2009, Milton Massie said youth in the neighborhood were angry and afraid — angry because parents weren’t taking responsibility for their kids, and afraid that they could be the next victims caught in gang crossfire while going to and from school.
“That’s a lot to ask from a child whose primary focus should be just trying to learn, and enjoying being a kid,” Massie said.
Turning to Scripture
Faced with the youth violence epidemic, UrbanFaith turns to the Book of Isaiah for glimpses of peace and redemption during turmoil.
Isaiah 1:15-17: “Your hands are full of blood! Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice.”
Isaiah 2:4: “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”
Isaiah 58:9-10: “‘If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”
Here’s Life Inner City Chicago has prayer requests on their website.
How can urban ministries combat gang violence and help youth living in unsafe neighborhoods? What Scripture do you turn to for hope and strength?
PLAY THAT FUNKY SOUL: The Kashmere High School Stage Band, circa 1976.
The new Mark Landsman documentary Thunder Soul may be relying on the glitz of executive producer Jamie Foxx’s name to get attention at the box office, but this magnificent little film about the musical achievements of an all-black Texas high school stage band hardly needs Foxx’s help.
Like a PSA on the lifetime value of music education in secondary schools, Thunder Soul captures the reunion of Kashmere High School’s funk band 35 years later as the alumni get the band back together to perform a tribute concert for their famed band leader and accomplished jazz musician Conrad O. Johnson. “Prof,” as the students call him, served as a father figure, drill sergeant, and part-time life coach, for the group of mainly at-risk African American kids, pushing and inspiring them to grow into award-winning musicians who innovated the world of high school stage band music with their smooth James Brown-inspired sound.
ALL TOGETHER NOW: Conrad “Prof” Johnson conducts the Houtson, Texas, Kashmere High School Stage Band.
Once tapped to be a musician for Count Basie’s touring band, Prof eventually passed on the glamorous lifestyle of professional music, choosing instead to settle into marriage and a quieter life of purpose as an educator for a local high school. Or so he thought. It was at Kashmere High that his creativity blossomed, leading him to craft a catalog of songs for the school band that are still being sampled by contemporary DJs and artists on hip-hop records and pop tunes today.
But it’s Prof’s lasting influence over the students’ lives, not the music industry, that looms largest in the film. Still eager to please the man who taught them so much of what they know, the alumni painstakingly turn the dissonance of decades passed and instruments left untouched into a stirring symphony paying appropriate homage to their 93-year-old professor. In awe of their ability to still play, Prof exclaims almost with a well-deserved wink of ego, “You mean they were taught so well, that they can remember what they did then … and do it?”
The answer is yes. And to hear the alumni speak, many of whom hadn’t touched a trombone or flute in over 30 years, those sacred hours spent in the band room during the 1970s were about more than just instruction on notes and harmony. Prof taught the students that they had the power and potential to play as well as any professional band, if they would only work hard. It was that inspiration that pushed many of the students out of the Fifth Ward of Texas with life sentences to poverty and raised them into adults who ultimately became doctors, lawyers, musicians, and even pastors.
Rhythmic and multi-faceted, the film itself is a bit like jazz — always progressing yet lingering over the notes. Landsman, aided by the phenomenal editing of Claire Didier, maintains the backbeat of the band’s story while weaving in colorful snippets of the Black Power movement, the racial segregation of the south, the cyclic nature of poverty in America, and the charm and intimacy of black families. Whether you love niche funk music or are simply a sucker for the sentimentality of a good underdog tale, Thunder Soul, even without a powerhouse star to headline the movie, is worth your time.
Thunder Soul opens today in Atlanta, Houston, and New York. Check the film’s website to find out when it opens in your area.
Recently in Utah, state Senator Chris Buttars (R-West Jordan) proposed a way to save his state up to $102 million dollars — make the 12th grade optional. With a budget deficit of $700 million, Utah lawmakers must be scratching their heads over whether or not to embrace untraditional means to alleviate their budgetary distress — especially when school districts in places like Kansas City, Missouri, are being forced to use draconian measures to stay afloat financially.
Senator Buttars, who has since backtracked a bit on the proposal, believes that a lot of seniors slack off in their final year of high school and just “play around.” This ends up costing school districts money that perhaps may be allotted to extracurricular activities which some may deem unnecessary. So he favors a system of “accelerated graduation” that would get some students out of the system sooner. Opponents of the proposal argue that senior year is still necessary because it helps to mature the students, providing another year to excel academically, athletically, and creatively.