“It was just self defense!” my prayer for young black men

Trayvon Martin

Two weekends ago there were over 71 people who were shot in Chicago. 54 people were killed by gunshot in Chicago during George Zimmerman‘s trial. In 31% of the killings, the victim was 19 years of age or younger. 76% of those victims were black and 85% of those young black victims were male.

Guys, I get it that you’re outraged about Trayvon Martin, but I’m telling you, I live in a community that does not value life nor peace. So many young men, including a few students of mine, have died or have been wounded unjustly by gunshot without so much as a blurb in the newspaper, much less a facebook movement or even a hoodie march. While it encourages me to see so many people caring about this young man’s life, I have to also think of the hundreds of other young black men who I see on a daily basis. How long will they live? Will they be shot at sometime in their life?

The sad truth is that many kids on the Southside of Chicago (the majority of which are Black or Latino) don’t expect to live very long. The majority of my students have seen a gun in the hands of a teenager in person, and I would say about a third of my students have been shot at.

No one is getting outraged. At least, no one is getting outraged enough about this tragedy.

Each day and each night my prayer for my students and my neighbor kids is for The Lord to show Himself to them. I pray that they are kept safe, but if they aren’t, then I pray that their experience of violence bring them closer to the Prince of Peace. I pray that young black men would desire more than to belong to a gang, but to belong to Jesus Christ. I pray that they choose the higher path and walk with The Lord rather than rep their colors and carry their drugs and weapons for some cash.

My neighbor boy, let’s call him Jasun, walks up to my house with another little boy half his age, let’s call him Stevie. Jasun and Stevie often come over to my house (sometimes unannounced, or sometimes because we’ve planned our Bible study and they can’t wait until 6:30, so they ring our doorbell every ten minuets asking if it’s time). When they come, we usually make a meal together, play with the cat, listen to Lecrae, and read our Bible.

Yesterday Jasun and Stevie were eating our homemade pizza, watching “Thriller” on my laptop. I was in the kitchen pouring them their smoothies for dessert when the fight broke loose. See, what had happened was Jasun saw Stevie doing something he shouldn’t have been doing (pretending to write on the table), and so he hit him. Stevie then retaliated and hit Jasun back. And… the hitting match escalated into a knock-down-drag-out fight.

So I ran to the dining room to pull Stevie’s arm out from around Jasun’s neck and separate the two of them. I was met with a barrage of excuses, sniffles, and “he started it” and “it was just self defense”. So naturally, I explained what the rules of our house were and how violence only begets violence. I was so worked up and impassioned, I started quoting the Gospel of Luke where Jesus says to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, where Jesus also says that when someone slaps you on your right cheek, turn and offer your left cheek to be slapped as well, where he says to never demand your stuff back from someone who steals from you, but offer your clothes for them to take from you too.

They looked stunned.

We pulled out our Bibles and read from Luke Chapter 6.

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

The truth is guys, we’re not even suppose to defend ourselves. Jesus tells us not to. He’s pretty clear even when he tells Peter that those who live by the sword die by the sword. In Roseland’s case, those who live by the guns and drugs and gangs, die by them. To. Be. Sure.

Call me extreme, call me too literal, call me illogical and unpractical. I call me a servant of the Living God who will protect and preserve when I obey what He teaches. And clearly, He teaches me not to fight back, to turn and offer the other cheek, to surrender my shirt, and my goods to whomever tries to take them from me. I don’t self-defend, I Christ-defend, and I have faith in He who was mild and meek on earth and who reigns in power in heaven.

The Roseland Memorial. Each brick represents a life killed by gun violence in our Chicago community

The Roseland Memorial. Each brick represents the life of a child killed by gun violence in our Chicago community

My prayer for Jasun and for Stevie and for so many young black males in Chicago and across the world, is that they desire to be more like Christ. That they see him in their struggle and want to be molded by His power and grace, not by money, drugs, sex, violence, or greed.

My prayer is for all of us to see the injustice around us as an opportunity to preach peace and goodwill. My prayer is that we do better, man up, and see that the real issue is not who shot who or if it was self-defense or not, the issue is that we are so used to people killing one another that it takes a publicized case like George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin’s to get us up in arms about injustice. My prayer is that we also get up in arms about the hundreds of shootings, deaths, and murders that go unpublicized and unnoticed.

For the many memorials on the side of the road that I pass on my way to work, for the kids who have never known anything other than monstrous violence that it doesn’t even seem abnormal, for Gizzell Ford who was recently strangled to death in her own home, for my two students who where brutally injured by gun violence, and for the student who was shot and killed this year at my school….

I pray that we all grow compassion for this issue of violence, and that we teach our children the way Jesus lived amongst it.

3 thoughts on ““It was just self defense!” my prayer for young black men

  1. God bless your heart of compassion, Claire. Our youth need more godly influences like yourself who will point them to Christ and His ways.. My daughter and her husband have an inner city ministry in Boston MA, and are on the “front lines” with them as well. I’ll continue to keep you and your husband in my prayers. – Peg

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