“Black people don’t commit suicide. That’s a white thing!”

“Black people don’t commit suicide. That’s a white thing!”

Video Courtesy of AJ+


“Black people don’t commit suicide. That’s a white thing.”

Who said that? That is a false statement. Blacks suffer from mental illness just like their white counterparts. In fact, when you think of everyday stressors, systematic-racism such as police brutality, education and health care gaps, and sexism that impacts black women, blacks are more likely to be at risk for developing a mental condition.

Although July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, this week, September 5-11 is National Suicide Prevention Week and it is a perfect time to shed light on what many deem a nonexistent problem. Schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, dissociative identity disorder/multiple personality disorder, bulimia, ADHD, OCD and social anxiety are examples of mental illnesses that people battle daily. In the black community, many choose not to acknowledge mental illness as a sickness. Diseases such as diabetes and cancer are accepted as normal and natural, but what so many fail to realize is that blacks are no different than any other race when it comes to these illnesses. We are not exempt from mental illness.

While some experience mental illness only once in their life (depending on the illness, environment, life stressors, and genetics), others battle mental illness for the rest of their lives. Some of us think that we do not have a problem and truly believe that everyone else is the issue. Unfortunately, these myths and illusions force us to suffer in silence and not seek treatment. Mental illness affects “everyday functional” people and it is not limited to the homeless man talking to himself. It impacts a person’s emotions, perception, and behaviors.

As a person with major depression and generalized anxiety disorders, the comments said to me have been heartbreaking and mind-blowing because it prevented me from seeking help. I thought that I was making it up in my head even though I didn’t feel well for years. Finally diagnosed at 25, my doctor stated that the illness started around the age of 13. Can you imagine having cancer without being diagnosed for over 10 years? You would die. Well, I can tell you that I was dying on the inside and it led to multiple suicide attempts. My illness can get so debilitating. At one point, it stopped me from doing basic things such as going to work, talking, eating and showering.

Here are some of the myths that we must stop saying!

Myth #1: Only white people commit suicide.

Fact: According to by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate of black children in between the ages of 5 and 11 doubled between 1993 and 2013  and the rate among white children committing suicide declined. Suicides by hanging nearly tripled among black boys. While whites still have highest suicide rates in the country, suicide rates among black youth have significantly grown over the past decade. Unfortunately, black youth are killing themselves more frequently than their elders. Suicide has become the third leading cause of death among black people between the ages of 15 and 24 and a leading cause of death among school-aged children younger than 12 years in the United States.

Myth #2: Medication doesn’t work and/or they make you feel worse.

Fact: Medication is necessary for some individuals in their mental recovery. While they are NOT cures for mental illness, they are vital for treating the symptoms. Some may need medication for the rest of their lives (depending on the illness) and others only need it for a specific time. Nonetheless, medication is not a sign of weakness and it does not mean the person is crazy. It is no different from taking medication for high blood pressure or insulin for diabetes. Just like the body gets sick, the brain gets sick too, if you don’t take care of it. And no, this is not to say that everyone with a mental illness will need medication, but it is an invaluable help to many.

Myth #3: Black people don’t go to therapy.

Fact: Though there has been a deep-rooted stigma about seeking therapy, Blacks are increasingly seeking therapy for mental illness. Therapy is great whether you have a mental illness or not. Therapy helps you to work on yourself, dissect problems, face fears and overcome obstacles such as breakups, loss of a loved one, financial challenges, self-image issues, abuse, etc. As mentioned previously, blacks deal with oppression daily and therapy can help us work through it. Those who are still hesitant to try therapy can look into other ways of getting help. The support of a life coach has also been shown to be beneficial for many.

Myth #4: You can pray it away.

Fact: As a Christian, I have seen God perform miracles in my life. But when you say to a person “just pray,” you are assuming that they are not praying and dismissing how they feel, challenging the sincerity of their faith, and most likely preventing them from getting treatment. You would not say “just pray” to a person who broke a leg. You would tell them to go to the doctor for an x-ray and cast. We must treat mental illness the same. God also gives us resources to use on earth and sometimes that may be therapy and medication when a person is battling a mental illness.

Damian Waters is a marriage and family therapist in Upper Marlboro, MD, where he serves predominantly African American clients. On the issue of the stigma surrounding blacks seeking therapy, he says, “There’s some shame and embarrassment. You’ll tell someone that you went to the doctor, but you won’t tell that you went to the counselor or psychiatrist. Also, there is the idea that their faith should carry them through, though often their problems are larger than that.”

As a way to honor those with mental illness, please think before you speak, and encourage those who need help to seek treatment. Mental illness is just as serious as any other disease and those affected by it should not be judged or outcast. Mental illness is a flaw in brain chemistry, not a character flaw, or a white people problem.

 

Can you think of other myths surrounding Blacks and mental illness? Share them below along with your thoughts on putting the myths to rest once and for all.

How to Fight Racism: An Interview with Jemar Tisby

How to Fight Racism: An Interview with Jemar Tisby

Jemar Tisby generated a lot of necessary conversation about the intersection of race, social justice, and the global church in 2019 with his best-selling book, The Color of Compromise. With that book, he laid the historical foundation of racism in the church. In the last chapter of the book, Tisby shares practical tips for fighting racism. In his new book, How to Fight Racism, Tisby continues the conversation, but this time around he provides an actual framework that churches and Christian groups can use toward racial reconciliation.

“In a lot of ways, they [the books] pair together really well. Now, they can be read independently of each other. So, I don’t want folks to get scared if they didn’t read the first one. You can dive into the second. From my perspective, the second book is what I wanted to be the first book. I was really passionate about getting in there, getting involved in doing something about racism. But in conversations with publishers and advisors and things like that, it became apparent that we really needed to lay the groundwork for the problem of racism and white supremacy in this country. Especially as it relates to the church. And basically, diagnose the problem before we jumped to solutions,” said Tisby.

Tisby’s solution is built around a model he created called the ARC of Racial Justice. ARC is an acronym for awareness, relationships, and commitment. From Trayvon Martin through the Black Lives Matter Movement and even the tumultuous racial conflicts during the Trump presidency, many people have become more acutely aware of our country’s problems centered around race. But committing to developing relationships with people who may not have the same views as you do or are coming from a different cultural perspective and, in doing so, breaking down racist structures takes more of a plan for change.

“What I’m hoping for is that this sparks ideas for people to gather a group of folks around them and say, ‘Hey, let’s do something.’ And I am really looking forward to stories trickling in over the next year and two years or whatever, so that when we do the updated and revised version of How to Fight Racism, I can include stories from the field, so to speak,” Tisby said.

So, what about Critical Race Theory (CRT) as a way to combat racism? CRT argues that diversity training and changes in the laws are needed to combat structural obstacles created by white people that make for an unequal playing field in our society when it comes to people of color. Some people believe that CRT is a huge threat to the church. Tisby doesn’t see it that way. He says people who are dismissing it are using an old tactic — from tactics during the Civil War, when pro-slavery people used terms like “carpetbaggers” and “scallywags,” to the Jim Crow segregationists’ labels of “outside agitators,” to modern usages of Red Scare smears of “communists” and “Marxists.” Now, the label is “Critical Race Theory” proponents and is being used by people whom Tisby says want to defend a racist status quo.

“All of these things are about controlling the narrative. And what happens is, if I can use a label like Critical Race Theory, I can paint it as bad, slap you with it. Then I can put you in a box, put you on the shelf, and I don’t have to actually listen to what you’re saying about racism and white supremacy,” Tisby said. “What we have to do is not get distracted from the main issue, which is Christian nationalism. It has infected so many parts of the church in the U.S. and even beyond.”

Many white Christians don’t experience racism the same way as Black people and other people of color because the Christian nationalists are in their families, in their churches, and some cases, they’ve acclimated to that way of thinking. Tisby says it’s hard for them to see it as an urgent existential problem that the marginalized and oppressed people do. That said, he has noticed that the social justice marches and movements have had an impact. White women in particular, from a 30-something who teaches Bible study at a nursing home to 70-year-old women, have reached out to him via social media and seem catalyzed to start taking action.

“It might’ve had to do with the past year or two and what they saw, especially politically. White Christians are starting to realize, ‘Oh my, like these differences are real. They’re salient. They’re in my church. They’re in my family,’” Tisby said.

It’s no easy task to be as explicit as Tisby directs white Christians about calling out Christian nationalism and white supremacy in their ranks. We know how it’s infected historically and theologically what they do. He often praises Fannie Lou Hamer’s efforts, who became a nationally known civil rights activist after seeing a presentation about voting rights at her church. Tisby admires how she always connected her activism to her faith. With that in mind, what should Black Christian activists be doing now?

“We are going to have to protect our peace. We are living in perilous times right now. And I find myself even just scrolling through Twitter or social media and whatnot, that I’ve got to take breaks because the flood of negative news, the flood of anti-Blackness, all of that stuff is too much to handle all at once. So, we will have to cultivate communities that affirm our dignity, that affirm our being made in the image of God. You got to go out and seek it and find it.”

William Pannell wrote ‘The Coming Race Wars?’ nearly 30 years ago. It still resonates today

William Pannell wrote ‘The Coming Race Wars?’ nearly 30 years ago. It still resonates today

(RNS) — In his book, “The Coming Race Wars?,” theologian William Pannell foresees the poor and disenfranchised engaging in violent urban uprisings and revolts across the world similar to the 1992 Los Angeles riots. It will only be a matter of time, he writes, “before some cop blows it again in his or her treatment of a Black person, probably a Black man.”

Police brutality, racist and discriminatory lending practices, lack of well-paying jobs could push Black people and other marginalized communities to revolt, Pannell predicts. And the evangelical church — with all its influence, resources and its supply of missionaries across the world — is ill-equipped to address social issues at home, he argues.

Pannell, professor emeritus of preaching at Fuller Seminary, pushes back against the notion that Jesus is all people need to make it.

“I really do believe that people — all people — need Jesus,” Pannell writes. “But to make it in society, white Christians realize they need a lot more than salvation. They may expect Black people to be content with salvation in Christ. But that is not enough for the white Christians themselves.”

While the debate has been “between those committed to evangelism and those committed to justice,” Pannell writes that “what we should be striving for is a spirituality that will inform both evangelism and social transformation.”

Pannell wrote “The Coming Race Wars?” nearly 30 years ago.

“The interesting thing about this book is that it sounds so contemporary, even though it’s about 30 years old,” Pannell, 92, told Religion News Service. “Why is that? What is there about this book that makes it so painfully contemporary after so long a time?”

The book was first published in 1993, in the wake of the 1992 uprising that erupted in Los Angeles after a jury acquitted four LAPD officers in the beating of Rodney King. Now, in the wake of 2020’s racial justice uprisings after the killing of George Floyd, Pannell has released an updated version.

“The Coming Race Wars: A Cry for Justice, from Civil Rights to Black Lives Matter” was published in June, and features a new introduction by Jemar Tisby, author of the book “The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism,” and an afterword that Pannell began writing before COVID-19 struck the nation and prior to the police killing of Floyd that sparked protests across the country against police brutality and in support for Black Lives Matter.

In the afterword, Pannell explains that he essentially began writing it nearly 30 years ago, when Rodney King called for an end to the riots, publicly asking on television: “Can we all get along?”

“The question of the Black man from Los Angeles loomed large thirty years ago and it still throbs with meaning,” Pannell writes.

Pannell, in the new epilogue, seeks to answer the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s question, “Where do we go from here?” But the meaning of “here” is something Pannell grapples with.

He underscores the death of King and recalls the crowd leaving the March on Washington “wondering about the future.” He highlights Billy Graham’s 1970 “The Unfinished Dream” speech in front of a predominantly white crowd and how his “power and prestige legitimated the marriage of God and country.” Pannell documents Graham laying the foundation for evangelical support for conservative agendas. After his death and the “evangelical movement shattered along ideological lines,” he asks, “What’s next?”

Pannell brings readers back into the present, to the Black Lives Matter protests and to former President Donald Trump’s speech at Mount Rushmore where he “drove the dagger of division deeper into America’s heartland,” and asks again, “Where do we go from here?”

“The here, unfortunately, is pretty much what it was 30 years ago,” Pannell told RNS.

To Edward Gilbreath, vice president of strategic partnerships at Christianity Today, the expanded and new version of Pannell’s book serves as a historical reflection but “also as a statement on how far we haven’t come.”

“Dr. Pannell was not afraid to speak the truth to power in evangelical circles at that time. He was very much engaged and a part of the predominantly white evangelical community,” said Gilbreath, who in 2019 helped spearhead Pannell’s updated book when he was an executive editor at InterVarsity Press.

“This gave him a very intimate perspective in terms of being trusted and someone who is not just criticizing for criticism’s sake, but he really cared about the church and wanted to see real change because he loved the church,” Gilbreath added.

With this version of the book, Gilbreath said he hopes to introduce Pannell to a new generation, those who may know about evangelist Tom Skinner “but have not heard the name William Pannell.”

Anthea Butler, associate professor of religious studies and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania, said it’s crucial to contextualize how the original book was published at a time when L.A. was reckoning with the aftermath of what’s been described as one of the worst race riots in American history.

“It was important to talk about the ways in which evangelicals hadn’t paid attention to race,” said Butler, author of “White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America.” “He was already working on that book when the L.A. riots happened.” Butler dedicated her book to Pannell.

Butler juxtaposes “The Coming Race Wars?” with Pannell’s 1968 book, “My Friend, the Enemy,” where he seeks to explain how white people, including those Pannell knew and loved, could “at once be both friend and foe.” In it, he centers his experience as an evangelical Black man among Christians who seldom challenged white supremacy.

“That book was trying to address back in 1968 the same kind of issues that he was addressing in 1993, and here we are in 2021 with the updated version, and evangelicals still haven’t gotten it yet,” Butler said.

Pannell recognizes that a majority of evangelicals supported Trump and his administration. “It has become clear that this segment of the church is deeply divided and segregated not only by theology but by political ideology,” he writes.

The race wars may still be coming, Pannell writes, but he also highlights how the “command of the risen Christ to his followers was that they go into all the world and make disciples of the nations. Not build churches; not make converts. Make disciples.”

“It seems fairly clear today that we have far more churches and Christians than we have disciples,” Pannell writes.

In his afterword, Pannell poses the question: “What, after all, does it mean to be the people of God today?

“Moving forward from here will require a greater investment in discipleship, a deeper commitment to beloved community, and a reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit,” Pannell writes. “In other words, we’ll need to be the church.”

 

Trying to Avoid Racist Health Care, Black Women Seek Out Black Obstetricians

Trying to Avoid Racist Health Care, Black Women Seek Out Black Obstetricians

In South Florida, when people want to find a Black physician, they often contact Adrienne Hibbert through her website, Black Doctors of South Florida.

“There are a lot of Black networks that are behind the scenes,” said Hibbert, who runs her own marketing firm. “I don’t want them to be behind the scenes, so I’m bringing it to the forefront.”

Hibbert said she got the idea for the website after she gave birth to her son 15 years ago.

Her obstetrician was white, and the suburban hospital outside Miami didn’t feel welcoming to Hibbert as a Black woman pregnant with her first child.

“They had no singular photos of a Black woman and her Black child,” Hibbert said. “I want someone who understands my background. I want someone who understands the foods that I eat. I want someone who understands my upbringing and things that my grandma used to tell me.”

In addition to shared culture and values, a Black physician can offer Black patients a sense of safety, validation and trust. Research has shown that racism, discrimination and unconscious bias continue to plague the U.S. health care system and can cause unequal treatment of racial and ethnic minorities.

Black patients have had their complaints and symptoms dismissed and their pain undertreated, and they are referred less frequently for specialty care. Older Black Americans can still remember when some areas of the country had segregated hospitals and clinics, not to mention profoundly unethical medical failures and abuses, such as the 40-year-long Tuskegee syphilis study.

But even today, Black patients say, too many clinicians can be dismissive, condescending or impatient — which does little to repair trust. Some Black patients would prefer to work with Black doctors for their care, if they could find any.

Hibbert is working on turning her website into a more comprehensive, searchable directory. She said the most sought-after specialist is the obstetrician-gynecologist: “Oh, my gosh, the No. 1 call that I get is [for] a Black OB-GYN.”

For Black women, the impact of systemic racism can show up starkly in childbirth. They are three times as likely to die after giving birth as white women in the United States.

Nelson Adams is a Black OB-GYN at Jackson North Medical Center in North Miami Beach, Florida. He said he understands some women’s preference for a Black OB-GYN but said that can’t be the only answer: “If every Black woman wanted to have a Black physician, it would be virtually impossible. The numbers are not there.”

And it’s also not simply a matter of recruiting more Black students to the fields of medicine and nursing, he said, though that would help. He wants systemic change, which means medical schools need to teach all students — no matter their race, culture or background — to treat patients with respect and dignity. In other words, as they themselves want to be treated.

“The golden rule says, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’ so that the heart of a doctor needs to be that kind of heart where you are taking care of folks the way you would want to be treated or want your family treated,” he said.

George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis in May 2020, and the subsequent wave of protests and activism, prompted corporations, universities, nonprofits and other American institutions to reassess their own history and policies regarding race. Medical schools were no exception. In September, the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine revamped its four-year curriculum to incorporate anti-racism training.

New training also became part of the curriculum at Florida Atlantic University’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine in Boca Raton, where students are being taught to ask patients about their history and experiences in addition to their bodily health. The new questions might include: “Have you ever felt discriminated against?” or “Do you feel safe communicating your needs?”

“Different things that were questions that we maybe never historically asked, but we need to start asking,” said Dr. Sarah Wood, senior associate dean for medical education at Florida Atlantic.

The medical students start learning about racism in health care during their first year, and as they go, they also learn how to communicate with patients from various cultures and backgrounds, Wood added.

These changes come after decades of racist teaching in medical schools across the United States. Adams, the OB-GYN, completed his residency in Atlanta in the early 1980s. He recalls being taught that if a Black woman came to the doctor or hospital with pain in her pelvis, “the assumption was that it was likely to be a sexually transmitted disease, something we refer to as PID, pelvic inflammatory disease. The typical causes there are gonorrhea and/or chlamydia.”

This initial assumption was in line with a racist view about Black women’s sexual activity — a presumption that white women were spared. “If the same symptoms were presented by a Caucasian, a white young woman, the assumption would be not an STD, but endometriosis,” Adams said. Endometriosis is not sexually transmitted and is therefore less stigmatizing, less tied to the patient’s behavior.

That diagnostic rule of thumb is no longer taught, but doctors can still bring unconscious racial bias to their patient encounters, Adams said.

While they revamp their curricula, medical schools are also trying to increase diversity within their student ranks. Florida Atlantic’s Schmidt College of Medicine set up, in 2012, a partnership with Florida A&M University, the state’s historically Black university. Undergraduates who want to become doctors are mentored as they complete their pre-med studies, and those who hit certain benchmarks are admitted to Schmidt after they graduate.

Dr. Michelle Wilson took that route and graduated from Schmidt this spring. She’s headed to Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, Georgia, for a residency in family medicine. Wilson was drawn to that specialty because she can do primary care but also deliver babies. She wants to build a practice focused on the needs of Black families.

“We code-switch. Being able to be that comfortable with your patient, I think it’s important when building a long-term relationship with them,” Wilson said.

“Being able to relax and talk to my patient as if they are family — I think being able to do that really builds on the relationship, especially makes a patient want to come back another time and be like, ‘I really like that doctor.'”

She said she hopes her work will inspire the next generation of Black doctors.

“I didn’t have a Black doctor growing up,” Wilson said. “I’m kind of paving the way for other little Black girls that look like me, that want to be a doctor. I can let them know it’s possible.”

This story is part of a partnership that includes NPR, WLRN and KHN.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

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Finding Faith and Community on Virtual Campuses: An Interview with Shaylen Hardy

Finding Faith and Community on Virtual Campuses: An Interview with Shaylen Hardy

Last year the pandemic disrupted the world as we know it–leaving most college students grappling with how to live in a world without access to community, coupled with the pressure of continuing their education. 

For Black students, the exposure of racism locally, nationally, and globally made the Great Disruption even more difficult. The nation witnessed the deaths of Black men and women at the hands of law enforcement and vigilantes while being forced to quarantine. White supremacy and racist rhetoric were often unveiled from the mouths of people who identified as Christian, which left many students wrestling with their faith on multiple fronts without the normal practices and people to help encourage them. 

But in the midst of the turmoil and testing, leaders of campus ministries sought to support  Black students. I had the opportunity to interview Shaylen Hardy, the President of Intervarsity’s Black Campus Ministries, about her experiences and insight leading one of the largest networks of Black campus ministries through the pandemic. Some highlights of our conversation are below, and the full interview can be viewed above and on UrbanFaith.com!

The interview has been edited for clarity.

 

Allen:

I’ll open up our first question, Shaylen. From your perspective, what are some of the challenges that you have seen Black students face in the last year as they’ve lived through this pandemic and the social unrest in our country? 

 

Shaylen:

Yeah, I mean, I think you named some of the major things that they’re facing. I think another thing with Generation Z is mental health issues. We already knew coming into this year, or pre-pandemic, that Generation Z experiences significantly higher amounts of mental health issues. So as you think about it, some of the racial reckoning that we’re seeing in the nation, plus the weight of the pandemic, are actually just compounding the mental health issues that those students were experiencing already. So some of the ways in which they may have negotiated or worked through their mental health challenges, like being with friends, or engaging in activities that are life giving to them, were taken away instantly. So, the challenges of coping with mental health complications are something that we’re seeing. 

And also their academic coursework. I mean, many of us remember getting up in the morning, going to class, and just the weight of that. But there’s a different [pressure] when you have to be virtual and on Zoom calls all day long.  They are expected to retain everything that they’re hearing without the personal interaction with their teachers and other students, and just the fatigue. Many of us working via Zoom for this last year were also experiencing fatigue, but we’re not being tested week in and week out on what we heard during those calls.

 

Allen:  

That makes a lot of sense. A follow-up question that I have is, how are the students able to gather together in life giving ways with organizations like Intervarsity, or with one another? How, in the midst of being virtual, are they finding community?

 

Shaylen:

Yeah, I think part of it is being somewhat creative. And so we recognize that one of our only ways of interacting is virtually. And we know that we’re inviting them to come back into a virtual space after they’ve spent most of their day on it. But we think through developing community in a couple of different ways. 

Yes, we still do our Bible study, and yes, we still have prayer meetings and things like that. But we host virtual game nights where we invite students to come play Spades or stUno, and we have virtual movie nights where we play a movie and students can chat about what they’re experiencing. So we think that community is still very, very vital to their mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. We just have to be creative in how we use virtual mechanisms to help build that community so that when we are able to go back to the new normal, they can pick up where they left off with one another

 

Allen:

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I think that hybrid is kind of the future of the world at this point, right? Like, things are not going back to the way that they were. You just mentioned how people are using these hybrid mediums in order to engage in order to strengthen themselves and their faith. What are some of the ways that you’ve seen students really be able to feed their faith or keep themselves encouraged?

 

Shaylen:

I think part of it is we do small groups on different campuses and across the country, and we have had a national virtual conference for students to engage. I think one of the things that we’re learning about Generation Z is that because they have so much content available to them, just showing them a video  isn’t enough. They’re like, help me figure out what I’m supposed to do with what I just heard. And so we’ve actually been able to have a couple breakout sessions [that are]  conversations about what’s happening in the world and what Jesus has to say about justice. And students are like, “Yeah, that was great.” And then we have to follow up by sharing the next two steps to take if you want to figure out how to be more active and engage in what’s happening in the world. So I think part of it is yes, content. But if you think about it, this generation has more access to more content than anyone has ever had. So what we’re seeing is this generation is like, “Yeah, give me content. And when you give it to me, make sure it looks good, but also help me figure out what you want me to do with what I just heard.”

 

Allen:

Wow, that’s huge. The application part makes a big difference for them. Now, the other thing that has been impacting us is not just a pandemic, but also this racial unrest. And I’m really curious, how have you been hearing Black students talk about this deal with this with their faith? How is the racial unrest been impacting them in particular in these times? 

 

Shaylen:

I think in some ways, it’s connected to some of the mental health issues.  Like, it is hard for me to show up because of all of the trauma that I’m experiencing, and so that is compounded with that mental health tension, and then I have to show up and engage academically. But also, I have to be social and be competent in my interaction with my classmates. So it’s like they’re having to pull it all together to be okay, when they don’t feel okay. So that’s definitely a tension that they’re experiencing. 

I will say that we’ve tried to have conversations to help students think through what Jesus has to say about what is happening right now. And I think that a lot of people who would challenge the Christian faith or the Christian perspective will point to broader White evangelicalism of: “That is why Jesus cannot be trusted.” And so some of our students are trying to wrestle with, if this is the fruit [meaning racism], and they say they love Jesus,, can this be compatible with me following Jesus? 

Part of what we’ve had to do is actually expose some of the lies of White evangelicalism. And yes, you can fully follow Jesus as a Black person, as a nAfrican American, as an African [person]. All of those things are compatible with Jesus. But in some ways, I think in order to make that case, we’ve had to k pull back the curtain and say things like, “These are the lies that have been intertwined with American Christianity, and this is why Jesus is trustworthy.” On the one hand, [we] also speak to what Jesus has to say about the Black experience. And I think that there have been moments when [for Black students and myself] I see what’s happening in the world and I live as a Black [person] experiencing it [and], I’m like, “Lord, when will you show up?”

 

Allen:

That makes a lot of sense. What are some of the other ways that you’re coming alongside these students or ministering to them with Intervarsity? Or even the wider campuses? I know that you guys do work, not just with students, but with folks who are supporting students on campuses. So what have you all been doing in the midst of all this to support campuses?

 

Shaylen:

I think I’m connected to some of our spaces. So we’ve had a psychologist come in and talk about racial trauma, sharing her insights. And then we had breakout rooms where students were able to discuss what they were experiencing. And then from that point, we have prayer ministry rooms. So we’re getting into spaces where students can actually share their story and not just about what they have been experiencing, but also connect to prayer ministry. 

And similarly, at our virtual student conference we had over 300 students and about 10 faculty join us. So we had a conversation and then invited people into prayer ministry rooms. One of the things that was really surprising to me is that I felt like we recruited really well for our prayer ministry rooms, but we were continually having to call in reinforcements because the need and the hunger for prayer was so strong. In a virtual space, we had a Zoom room with music playing [where people could wait for a minister to be available].  There was one point, when I was recruiting people in there who jumped on 20 minutes after we started because they needed people. And there were students just waiting quietly in the prayer room until somebody was available. I think that that was such a stark picture of how we categorize youth often, like they aren’t interested in spiritual things or they don’t love Jesus. [But] they are hungry for what Jesus wants to give them. These students sat through an hour and a half or two hours of programming. And they are sitting in a Zoom call, listening to worship music because they want somebody to pray with them. 

I think just giving those opportunities for people to have encounters with the Lord [is important]. One of the things that we’re learning about Generation Z is that they want access to experts. I think millennials want to be the experts. Generation Z is like, “Just connect me with somebody who knows what they’re doing.” I don’t know that we anticipated this or actually know how it would work virtually. But offering that prayer ministry space has been super significant for students. 

And then I think the second piece that I mentioned earlier, is just opportunities for helping them figure out how to actually do it– how to apply the message to their lives.

 

Allen

So that provides a really great segue for another question I have, especially for a lot of the folks in our audience. We’re touching people who are Christians and especially churches all over the place. And it sounds like there’s a space for the church and an opportunity to reach some of these students. What kind of roles do you think the church can offer to these students as they’re dealing with things on campus and going through this this time?

 

Shaylen

I think one of the things that as I’ve been working on and trying to identify is, how do we actually care for Black college students, and what are the support structures that exist on college campuses? For HBCUs, there’s much more of a community of people already there who can pour into you and to develop you. For students who end up at predominantly White institutions, that looks quite different. 

[On HBCU campuses] there are often support structures and Black professionals who can help pour into you in the same way you were used to in high school. It sticks out to me that Generation Z wants to be developed. They want people who know what they’re doing to guide them.But on PWI campuses, it is very hard to have access to that. And that’s compounded. Most PWIs are surrounded by churches. White churches have money, so they surround the campus. But in most campus contexts, Black churches are about 10 to 15 minutes away from most campuses. And then basically, you’re saying for a Black college student to be connected to community, or to be connected to an older people who could pour into them, pray for them, and care for them, they have to find a way to get there. 

And so I think that my question would be, are there ways that Black church communities can be intentional about supporting Black students on college campuses? Now that’s a little bit complicated due to COVID because we just don’t know how accessible campuses will be, right? But as they open [there are opportunities]. 

My church has been thinking through things like, how do we care more for Black college students? And so I [gave them suggestions’ and  we actually started partnering with a student organization. We attended their meeting every so often and brought a whole bunch of food–wings, pizza.e would let them do their meeting, then do an icebreaker and ask if anyone needed prayer. 

And then we ended up having a college day later in the semester, and we had never had so many college students at our church. I want to say that over 100 college students came over to the event. And part of it was because they saw us being active on campus–they saw us caring about them. We didn’t do a full church service. That’s something we could consider down the road. But basically, we were saying, “We just want to know what you’re going through.” We want to support you. 

Churches might think that they have to have a robust strategy for recruiting for building a whole separate ministry, but I don’t think that they need to do all that. Are there two or three students that somebody in your congregation has trust with? If the answer is yes, ask them, or, for Generation Z, tell them how you want to support them. Say, “Hey, I know that I have meetings on campus. Would it be okay, if our church sponsors dinner for you at one meeting per month? We would just love to meet them and see if there’s a way for us to pray for them.” And then figure out ways that you can invite them to partner with you for something that you’re doing in the community or invite them to church. We don’t have to have a whole robust strategy. It can really start off with relationships.

 

Allen

Wow, I love that relationship piece. And just allowing us to again build relationships as churches with students and be able to support them where they are. So my last question is, with all of that’s going on, are there other people who may be around campuses who  can continue to make an impact with Gen Z?

 

Shaylen

Yeah, so we have a ministry in a university that’s targeted towards Black graduate students and Black faculty. It is called Black Scholars and Professionals, and they recently had a prayer call with Black faculty across the country. I want to say there were 45 faculty who jumped on [the call]. art of that was for encouragement and to tell testimonies of where they’re at and to pray together. 

As we think about faculty, they are carrying tremendous weight. There is the leadership that they already have on campus, but often for Black faculty, they have the unwritten roles of caring for Black students and speaking for diversity issues. And so they are carrying tremendous weights. One of the things that we try to do is to see how we can care for this spiritual life and help a faculty. As we think about wanting to see transformation on campus, students are there for four to five years, but faculty actually have significant influence on both students [and campuses]. If we can care for the spiritual life of faculty, they have access into [students’] lives in ways that we don’t. 

We’re trying to think through what faculty need so we can be present to their needs, but also for prayer and fellowship. On the student side of things, we have a point person on most campuses  who can provide discipleship and engagement. But also, we’ve been trying to kind of brainstorm how to do this work, even if we don’t have a staff available. 

The reality is, for the amount of Black students who are on college campuses across the U.S., we don’t now, nor will we ever,  have enough campus staff to reach all of them. How can we actually empower students to reach other students? How can we empower volunteers to reach other students? We are trying to be creative [about] how to partner churches, alumni, people in the community and students  to do the work of reaching other people on campus.

 

Allen

Absolutely. I thank you for naming just the needs of the faculty because they don’t get thought about a lot. Is there anything else you wanted to just say?

 

Shaylen

So, I would say that being in college is a really, really important time. You’re figuring out who you are, what you believe, and also what you’re going to be about. A lot of the decisions that you make in college shape who you are for the next 40 to 50 years. One of the difficult parts about college is that those decisions are made when you’re the most distant you’ve ever been from your spiritual community and [broader] community. So I want to encourage college students to look for people who can support them on the journey, because it’s significant– these are important decisions. Ask your parents and pastors who they know in the school or college town. If they don’t know anyone, reach out to different networks to try to figure out who in your community will support you. 

I think about my local church community when I moved into the town. They were so extremely helpful people wanting to pour into me–people wanting to know what I was  passionate about. Generation Z, doesn’t like the idea of taking the risk and going to somebody’s church or a place you don’t know. Having to socially interact with them in person might seem very, very risky. But I think thatB the benefit will far outweigh the risk.  That’s where you can have intergenerational fellowship. I think you will get much more than you are giving, and it will be worth much more than you risk. Ask your spiritual community where you are, if there’s any connections to where you’re going, and then seek those out. And if they aren’t a good  fit for you, I promise there’s someone in the community who can help you develop into who the Lord is calling you to be.

Allen  

Well, thank you so much for this interview, Shaylen. It has been fantastic. It’s awesome work that the Intervarsity Black Campus Ministries is doing all around the country. You guys are impacting so many students, faculty, and grad students. It’s wonderful to be with you again. And I hope that people are able to take something from this. I know that I’ve learned a lot about what’s going on on campuses, especially in the pandemic with racial unrest.  God bless you in this work.

Shaylen 

Thank you. And lastly, I’ll just say, we are on social media if people kind of want to see some of the things that we’re doing. It’s under Black Campus Ministries on Instagram, and we’re on Facebook. If you want more information, you can check out our website at BCM.intervarsity.org