The Lessons of Derrion Albert’s Death

The Lessons of Derrion Albert’s Death

Demanding More from Ourselves for urban faith

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?

Republicans Want Health Care, Too

Republicans Want Health Care, Too for urban faithI’m a registered Republican. I didn’t vote for Barack Obama. I believe in free-market enterprise. I like smaller government. There, I said it. It’s out!

That said, I think government plays essential roles in any civilized society. Defense, interstate highways, basic education to name a few. And there is one more role I would add to the list. Health care!

I know we have the most advanced medical treatment in the world — and the most expensive. I wouldn’t want to see it compromised. But I have to admit that something is wrong with the picture when the working poor and a sizable portion of the middle class don’t have access to these benefits. I am coming to believe what the rest of the modern world has concluded — that health care is a basic human right. To be last in line of industrialized nations to provide medical treatment for all our citizens is not something I am proud of.

I like government close to home. That’s one reason I’m a Republican. But I also have to admit that Social Security has served us fairly well, and I have no real complaints about how my Medicare is working. Oh, yes, the bureaucratic paperwork is aggravating and I hate talking to a computerized recording, but I guess that’s not too different from the way most large corporations function these days.

I seriously doubt that health-care reform can be accomplished without raising our taxes, but, frankly, that’s one of the taxes I wouldn’t mind paying. Compared to the costly wars we have funded recently, health care seems like a rather redemptive investment.

Do I like what Obama is proposing? Actually, I do. While I wouldn’t want a government takeover of our health-care system, I do see the value in a system that insures every citizens’ access to competent medical treatment.

Obviously it’s a very complex issue. And I’d be the first to acknowledge my ignorance in many of the complicated realities of this confusing medical world. I do know, however, that it makes no sense to see my low-income neighbors go to the hospital emergency room for ailments that could be treated inexpensively in a community clinic. And I do know from personal experience that physicians prescribe expensive and unnecessary procedures just to protect themselves from lawsuits. I guess these are a couple of the reasons why they say the system is broken.

I like competition. That’s one reason I like what Obama is proposing. I think I’m ready to let the government give health care a try. Our free-enterprise approach, while propelling us to the top spot in medical advances, has failed to figure out a system that shares the benefits with the whole of society. And that’s a justice issue.

Say what you will about Obama, on this one I believe he’s on the right side. We may disagree strongly about his politics and his methods, but his push to see that all citizens are being rightly cared for — especially the poor — is a push in the right direction.

And I’m still a Republican.

The Heart of Reform

Five reasons why the church should support health-care reform. An urban pastor’s view.

The Heart of Reform for urban faithI approach the discussion about health-care reform from the perspective of an urban minister. I’ve worked with urban core neighbors, neighborhoods, congregations, and community groups for more than 20 years. I’ve watched people struggle to access basic health services in the shadow of world-class hospitals. I know hardworking people caught in the “catch-22” level of income: They make too much to access Medicaid but too little to afford health insurance premiums. They work for companies that either don’t offer health insurance or offer it partially at a level these employees can’t afford.

Workers are forced to use a patchwork of health fairs, free clinics, and doctors who will see them occasionally without cost (God bless these). They put off illness or pain until it becomes chronic or unbearable and then make a dash to an emergency room. The health costs they incur are a greater portion of their household income than most Americans. The cost to their dignity is inestimable. But the cost to America’s integrity is even higher.

At the same time, I know that health-care costs are spiraling upward for higher-wage neighbors. The monthly cost for my family’s health insurance is higher than our mortgage payment. Our benefits are stripped down and our co-pays and deductibles are higher than ever.

I know people whose prescriptions are no longer covered, whose important procedures are denied, and whose insurance has been dropped. Many people have filed bankruptcy due in large part to unpayable medical bills.

In short, while the health-care system has not been working for the working poor for a long time, it is not working for more and more middle-income neighbors. None of this begins to factor in the significant levels of abuse of the system by those who game it — professional health-care providers, the insurance industry, and consumers of health-care services. The current system is not sustainable, it is not reasonable, it is not just. It does not reflect what we know is best about or for America.

So, I am completely on board with the call for quality, accessible, affordable health care for all citizens. I’m advocating for this from the perspective of an urban Christian minister on the one hand, and as an American citizen on the other.

As a Christian minister, I am convinced that quality, accessible, affordable health care for all is a moral imperative. As an American citizen, I am personally convinced it is a right that’s implied in the very intent of our Constitution and historic social contract. But it is as a Christian minister that I offer the following considerations on health-care reform to the church I love:

1. The Samaritan principle sets the tone for the Christian church regarding care for the poor, uninsured, and desperate in our land. Simply put, in the care a Samaritan extends to a wounded, helpless victim, Jesus declares what it means to be an authentic neighbor. If we have the resources to help and heal, we should. Not because we’ll get reimbursed. Not because there’s profit involved. Not because we’ll get recognized or rewarded. But because it reflects the caring, healing intention of God for God’s people in relationship to one another and in witness to the world.

We cannot pass by because we presume somebody else will take care of uninsured people. We cannot ignore what’s happening because it’s just bigger than us or beyond us. Jesus calls us to see, respond, help, comfort, and restore — as if those left out and wounded were our very own.

2. Jesus’ ministry of healing was conducted in the face of structures and regulations designed to control, limit, and exclude. I’ve been reading the Gospels again during this time of national concern about health care. Health and healing was front and center for Jesus. Undoubtedly, Jesus’ healings were a sign that he was the anticipated Messiah and that a new era was beginning. However, Jesus’ healings also confronted, exposed, and undermined age-old systems that, in the name of health care, prevented healing from occurring.

Jesus cut through the red tape, system-serving regulations, and control-oriented rituals to actually offer what God desired for people — healing, restoration, and a future of dignity and hope. Instead of defending the current status quo practices that place ordinary folks in similar binds, the people who follow and claim to reflect Jesus should consider how he judged and exposed the ineffectiveness and meanness of structures that served themselves at others’ expense.

3. The context of community, inclusion, and sharing resources to assist the neediest — central in the early church witness — is a pattern and principle to renew. Beginning with Acts 2, we see the earliest believers holding things in common, pooling resources, and selling off assets in order to meet the needs of the weakest among them. It was not about me and mine, but we and ours. In the perspective of that early faith community, my personal self-interest includes your well-being. They realized that we are deeply interconnected with one another.

The apostle Paul affirmed this principle with his counsel to the church in Corinth that we are members of one another, that no part can say to another, “I don’t need you.” To what extent are there such awarenesses or practices in the church today? And to what extent is our sense of community — over against asserting individual privilege and private rights — bearing witness to the larger community and nation of what is good, possible, and godly?

4. Christian leaders should be leading the health-care dialogue by seeking the truth and speaking the truth. To this point, it doesn’t seem to me that there has been a debate or dialogue about health-care reform. Much of the so-called debate to this point has focused on myths, distortions, and outright lies about proposed health reform legislation. The news media focus has been on misinformed people shouting down congressional leaders, calling them Nazis, and burning them in effigy.

I’m convinced Christians should not only not be a part of those scenarios, but that we should make a contribution to the dialogue that is fact-based, truth-seeking, civil, and that moves all to find the common ground necessary to ensure that quality, accessible, affordable health care is available to all American citizens.

If the news media or partisan groups play to distortions and extremes, then people of Christian faith have a significant role to get the facts, convey them in understandable ways, and create conversations that deal in what’s real. We are the people whose scriptures declare, “you will know the Truth and the Truth will set you free” (John 8:32). We are the people who are reminded that “God has given us, not a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7).

5. Let us embody and advocate for the principles, practices, and norms of the beloved community toward which Jesus pointed. Christians have no stake in propping up old-order systems, or aligning ourselves with self-serving institutions, or playing to sub-Christian social stratifications. At personal, community, and systemic levels, Christians are challenged to practice now the norms and promises of the future described in the Scriptures.

I love the way Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann puts it: “God’s future is enacted as present neighborliness.”

Is not quality, accessible, affordable health care for all one such act of “present neighborliness” that is a signal of the direction God intends the future to move? I think so. And I invite Christians and people of other faiths to join me and others in this kairos moment — this period of unique opportunity to witness something magnanimous and restorative in our generation.

This article appears courtesy of a partnership with Sojourners.