How the Black Church Can Make a Difference in the Lives of Young People

Reverend Reginald McRae singing the opening hymn led the Sunday worship alongside Clarence Wright, head of the Board of Stewards service on May 3, 2015 at the Mount Pisgah A.M.E Church in Jersey City. Richard J. McCormack/For The Jersey Journal
Reverend Reginald McRae singing the opening hymn led the Sunday worship alongside Clarence Wright, head of the Board of Stewards service on May 3, 2015 at the Mount Pisgah A.M.E Church in Jersey City.
Richard J. McCormack/For The Jersey Journal

Amidst the protests and destruction in Baltimore last week, one bright spot was the actions of Toya Graham, 42, the mother who spotted her 16-year-old son rioting. She grabbed him and removed him from the melee. 

“She was probably a church goer,” said Leslie McRae, the wife of the pastor of Mt. Pisgah A.M.E. Church in Jersey City. McRae isn’t alone in valuing the contributions of the black church. Sam Freedman, a New York Times columnist and journalism professor at Columbia, said that “the black church is the most important institution in the black community” at my 25th reunion last month.

That prompted me to seek out Rev. Reginald McRae, 58, the 15-year pastor of one of the larger black churches in Hudson County, who along with his wife and two other congregants had a 60-minute free-wheeling conversation last Tuesday evening about race, police and recent tragedies the day after the worst rioting Baltimore has seen since the race riots of the 1960’s.

We agreed that the violence perpetrated by youth in response to the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore police custody potentially could reinforce stereotypes about black youth. It points to the aimlessness that can be the result of poverty and deprivation. Harassment of blacks by some police is a chronic problem. And people who go to church have a better way to deal with setbacks and prejudice.

While Rev. McRae had questions about past investigations into black deaths by police in Ferguson and Staten Island, for example, he deplored the “crowd mentality.” He likened it to Jesus entering Jerusalem at first to “cheering crowds which immediately turned to jeering ones that wanted to crucify him.” He added, “I am not surprised at the reaction but do not condone rash and blatant abuse.”

Leslie McRae lamented the fact that “young kids and parents don’t go to church and with no foundation may turn to drugs” and other destructive behavior. Rev. McRae saw a cycle of despair because values are not instilled in everybody. “These kids are not in school, not properly educated, then look for jobs and do not have the necessary skills.” He said this can lead to incarceration and “a stigma.” The work of former Gov. Jim McGreevey and others to rehabilitate inmates and help them when released encourages him because it can help turn lives around.

Tyenah Pressley, 22, an honors graduate and a young leader at the church, started FOCUS, an acronym of Follow One Course Unto Success, this past February. Each month they invite mostly unchurched young people from the community between the ages of 20 and 40 to come to a neutral site. The first was at the Light Rail Café, which did not serve alcohol, and they asked each participant to create a life path on a board. About 15 attended the first session, and some 25 came to the most recent one last month. They have also talked about perseverance and handling finances. Pressley said some people have decided to join the worshipping community.

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Source: Jersey Journal |  Rev. Alexander Santora

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