The Black church and Black youth unemployment

By Lennox Farrell Thursday August 08 2013 in Opinion
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Do the Black churches in the Greater Toronto Area care about the jobless conditions affecting Black youth?


As part of all unemployed Canadian youth, generally rated at 15 per cent, and who Nancy Schaefer, president of Youth Employment Services (YES) calls “the jobless generation”; Black youth unemployment can be calculated at being twice that of Whites and others.


Specific to Black youth, are these circumstances of dire needs, ones in which these churches can, or should play active roles? After all, their role is for the spiritual, not the material, conditions affecting their members. Churches can cite possibilities of tax-exempt status being affected. However, is addressing material needs part and parcel of spiritual ones?


And why the church?


For one thing, and by example, in the U.S., when African-Americans were being whipped into Jim Crow subjugation, prevented from voting and exercising civil rights available to other citizens, it was the Black churches that took the leadership to change these. Today, we still honour some of these leaders, the best known being Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Are people like Dr. King today being honoured more with our lips than with our hearts and actions?


To their unmatched credit, it was the Baptist churches in the U.S. that particularly led out. Other church bodies were slower, even being warned to stay away from this “Black activism”. In fact, the FBI had lists of these church leaders, some of whom were cited for various “offences”. In the case of Dr. King, he was harassed daily and his church was bombed.


Today, in the GTA, there is much in my opinion that Black churches can also do. And a Black church is not one necessarily led by a Black pastor, priest, minister or else. Many churches with majority Black members easily accommodate pastors and leadership from all races.


As an aside to this, if Jesus, when He returns, is White as usually portrayed, Black Christians will have no problem welcoming Him. Would Black and other congregants be equally welcoming if Jesus was Black?


But back to the earthly issue of Black youth unemployment. Black youth are not other youth, for several reasons peculiar to our times. Such peculiarities require particular responses for solutions. For example, in the current consumer-led economy, jobs available are generally low-wage. Lacking security, they are nonetheless highly sought after.


Also, many of these enterprises are ethnic-based as employers and employees. People hire those who look like them, know them and are associated elsewhere. For example, in one school during my teaching tenure, a member of staff had died. Half of the staff was subsequently absent as family of the deceased. Today, visit any supermarket, bank and other enterprises. It is usually very visible of who are purchasers and who are employees.


In fact, retired as I and my spouse are, this unemployment situation among youth in general and Black youth does not directly affect us or our family. It did recently. A young man spoke with me about his circumstances. He had, a week earlier, graduated high school, and was beyond desperate for employment. Among other things, he said, it could help him if he ever “got in trouble”. Imagine that!


To this end, he had an interview pending at some fast-food outlet. You should hear the desperation in his voice as he hoped to be accepted. He so needed that job. It was to serve coffee, doughnuts, soups and the like. But he had doubts. He had gone on several other interviews and still nothing.


I know Black youth, the good and the not good. I have taught them and others for at least three decades, in all circumstances. I know hope when I see it. I know hopelessness, too. For this young man’s sake something had to be done.


Wherever my family purchase services, I meet with owners, etc. In one, after indicating that we have shopped for a decade at his supermarket, but meanwhile have never seen one Black employee…it was as if a light truly went on in his eyes.


“You’re right,” he responded. “We’ve never had a Black employee since I have (had) this franchise.”


He wasn’t racist. He just hadn’t ‘seen’ that. He offered to hire the young man, part-time. By the time I got to the youth, however, he had been offered the other job. He is also going on to college in the fall. Electricity, plumbing, etc. We arranged to subsidize his fees, assist him in his English & Maths and generally encourage him. He is also being advised by a Black contractor nearby on what was best to be self-employed.


Many of our youth desperately do not want to sell drugs and the like. Many of our Black youth are not lawless. No, most of them simply want what we, once young men, also wanted: opportunity, respect, encouragement and hope.


Are these needs material? Spiritual? Both? Can Black churches do more in these and other needed areas for our youth? Yes we can.


Black churches and preachers already interact much with Black youth and their families. In too many instances, however, these occasions are in funeral parlours and at grave sites. In many others, Black youth are baptised, serving members of many churches. They are good, hopeful and pleasant. However, do their pastors know of their too regular experiences, stopped by police; of being followed in supermarkets; of applying repeatedly for jobs, well-dressed, courteous, qualified…unsuccessfully?


Is it enough to only pray with them? Dr. King prayed for guidance on moving forward and for strength on taking the journey.


In another article some possible strategies could be considered. One is to collect data to realize the hidden power of the Black dollar and its impact in influencing changes in behaviour among employers. Of greater significance could be the role self-employment can play if Black churches jointly sponsor annual opportunities for Black entrepreneurs on the long weekend in August.


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