Posts Tagged ‘at-risk-youth’

Educational Leadership:Poverty and Learning:The Myth of the Culture of Poverty.


HEROES or ZEROS – Who Are Teenagers Following Today?

One week during a Bible study, we looked at a powerful lesson from Matthew 8:28-34.  This is the story where Jesus cast some demons out of two violent young men.  After the demons were cast out of these two, the demons begged Jesus to send them into a herd of pigs who then led them to leap off a cliff and drown to death in the lake below.

As we discussed the story, some shared that it symbolized to them that if you are a pig or behave in a pig-like (foul) manner, you will attract demons.  The question then came up as to why so many of our young people are attracted to negative or demonic-like people?  Tupac Shakur’s name was tossed in with a long list of this generation’s popular heroes who have gained little attention or understanding from the adult generation.

Folks couldn’t quite understand why there was so much passion for a guy who ran around with the words ‘Thug Life’ tattooed across his stomach.  Tupac was known for his violent behavior and his constant association with some sort of trouble.  He was accused of causing a disturbance in Marin City that resulted in a six-year-old kid getting shot to death.  He went to jail for sexual assault.  He carried guns and was not afraid to use them, and once even shot two off duty cops.

For the most part he lived and died violently, so why the attraction?  Why were kids crying hysterically when he died?  Why do his posters still hang on the walls of so many teenagers’ rooms?  Why are there now classes on college campuses that study his music, poetry and life?  Could Tupac and his fellow ‘gangsta rappers’ who constantly glamorize street life be functioning in the role of ‘demons’ and be leading our kids to lives of emptiness and death?  Post-mortem, Tupac has taken on a legendary status.  You can often hear people refer to him as a leader who sacrificed and died for his people.  How did he reach such heights from his death in 1996 to now in 2011 with kids who are currently in middle school?

Being involved with youth on a regular basis, one of the constant things I hear being said when I ask about Tupac from our young people is: “He was real, and he was fearless.  He was real – while so many other people are fake… You knew about his trials and tribulations… You knew his momma was a crack addict who had several kids with different daddies… You knew he hated his father… You knew he was hurting, and you knew he was angry.”  Tupac pulled no punches and he radiated a passion that touched a lot of people.  Young people everywhere appreciated his honesty and “realness”.

Could it be whether for better or for worse, that Tupac became a hero because so many of us adults have stopped doing the job and let the Tupacs of the world take our place as the more consistent role model?  I remember as a kid hearing the familiar question asked of parents: “It’s 10 o’clock… Do you know where your children are?”  I would now say to parents:  It’s the 21st century; do you know who’s talking to your kids?  Is it someone you trust?  Is it Tupac or Snoop Dog in videos or through YouTube?  Is it the guy making fast money down the street?

The fact that Tupac is considered such a hero today represents even a bigger picture for us.  For many of today’s young people, he’s more known and admired than Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Booker T. Washington, and Barak Obama.  `Facts like this make it obvious that as adults with influence we have all got to step up our game to reach our young people.  Who is winning the hearts, souls and minds of our kids in America and why?

An exercise I like to do when I speak to young people is to ask them who their top 5 heroes are.  What I found is that most never mention a teacher, pastor, youth leader, parent or some other family member.  I often hear names like Eminem, Lil Wayne, Kanye West, 50 Cent, Nicki Minaj, Pink, Allen Iverson, Jay-Z, etc.  And what is even more disturbing is that a lot of kids say they don’t have any heroes!

Another thing that has become obvious is the fact that many adults never even bother to have heartfelt exchanges with young people to even see what sort of messages they are picking up from their heroes.  Do they want to get tattoos like Tupac and 50 Cent mimicking their videos with bikini clad women flattering them?  Do they admire their violent ways and figure that’s the way to handle problems?  Did they pick up on the intelligence and brilliance of Tupac as a writer?  Or was he just a good-looking guy who made great music?  A lot of kids pick up Tupac’s good side, but a larger number admire and strive to emulate his fearless-take-no-prisoners persona.  They see Tupac as the ultimate street soldier.

Who are your kid’s heroes?  Is it Tupac, 50 Cent, Lil Kim, or Lady Ga Ga?  Do they want to dress provocatively with their breast hanging out and get their tongues pierced like Pink?  Today’s pop and hip-hop icons aren’t so innocent.  We have little kids who are 5 years old who know how to grind when they dance, and little boys who want to walk around with their pants like Ludacris and T.I.

I was recently viewing a Kanye West concert on YouTube that was packed with young people who have made him and his crews their idols and heroes.  After listening to Kanye encourage the mostly teenage audience to ‘Yell f– you bitch’ and ‘f– you nigga’, I had to wonder how many of our young people are influenced by attitudes and messages such as that and want to be like Kanye?

All of us have a responsibility to protect the youth in our communities from harmful influences.  Even if you don’t have kids of your own, we can still strive to create better standards and conditions so that drug dealers, entertainers, and rap stars aren’t more of an influence than the parents, teachers and preachers in our children’s lives.

If you know a child or a teenager, why aren’t you or some other family member one of their heroes?  I don’t ask this question to point fingers, but our young people are in trouble.  All sorts of demons are fighting to possess their hearts, minds, and souls.  Ask them who their heroes are… and if they’re the wrong type of heroes. Let’s be sure to step up and counter that.

We must give the proper attention and understanding to the hip-hop culture so that we as adults might earn the right to be heroes and role models for this generation.  Our true heroes will stay so by staying conscious of the power and influence they have on the lives of our young people.

Originally published in 1999 by Jim Shearer in What’s the Word Magazine.  Ideaz Media Corp™ Revised 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Do you feel compassion for those who are less fortunate?  Do you want to really make a difference in the lives of others?  Do you feel called to serve the poor or teach in an urban school?  Are you sensing a prodding to invest yourself in an under-served community?  Do you have a driving compulsion to reach at-risk youth and/or young adults in need?  If you feel the tug of these questions, you may be hearing your calling to serve.

Recently I was digging through some old files I used previously for training in youth outreach and educational settings.  I found an old document, titled “What Being a Youth Worker Ought to Do for You.” This one page of ought to statements have been passed around youth ministry circles for years.  When I worked for Young Life these words repeatedly helped challenge and encourage myself and others to serve.

These ought to statements are such a realistic, powerful and challenging set of truths.  I have used this piece and adapted it to fit many different scenarios; whether it has been working with privileged youth, under-served youth, schools, or whole communities.

Instructions: Read, allow time to marinate, and digest slowly.


  • Ought to seem so unreachable and big that you can only see it through the eyes of Christ by faith.
  • Ought to be harder than you can handle on your own, to make you more dependent on God.
  • Ought to give you enough disappointments to make you humble and break your spiritual pride.
  • Ought to be difficult enough to make you weep for others, that you might become more compassionate.
  • Ought to have enough demanding, insensitive, ungrateful people in it to make you love like Jesus loves.
  • Ought to have enough impossible, insurmountable obstacles in it to teach you the goodness and power of God.
  • Ought to teach you how to love when you are tired, give when you are spent, and pray when you are weary.
  • Ought to teach you the power and truth of His word, the strength of His voice and the might of His commands.
  • Ought to teach you how to turn your mourning into dancing, your sadness into joy and your sorrow into laughter.
  • Ought to teach you to love the only One worthy of all our love – the One who became poor that you might become rich and unjust so that you might become just.

I offer these challenging reflections to any who feel called to be in service to the poor.  I offer them as a way to know the power of God, and hoping that this knowledge will lead us to move forward in renewing the city with compassion, hope, and justice.

Proverbs 29:7 NIV – The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.