By: Christa Meland
Last summer, after George Floyd was killed under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, Patrick Senense asked the church youth group he leads: How is it affecting you? And what can we do about it?
His 60-member congregation—Magnolia Park UMC in Burbank, California—is mostly white. But its eight-person youth group is multi-racial and beautifully diverse. Senense suspected the youth and young adults might be struggling to process the event and the nationwide outcry that followed, and he wanted to explore with them how they might respond.
Members of the youth group decided to both share their own experiences with racism and raise money for anti-racism efforts through the Minnesota Conference’s “Just Love” campaign. In December, they sent a check for $674.69 to the bishop’s office earmarked for the campaign—which is supporting ministries of mercy (crisis counseling, housing stability, food/medicine) and ministries of racial justice (education, advocacy, intervention). So far, more than $45,000 has been contributed (you can donate here).
“I don’t want them to ever think that because we’re a small youth group, we can’t do big things,” said Senense. “God works in wondrous ways and this is one of them.”
Rev. Dan Johnson, Twin Cities District superintendent who is working with a diverse Rapid Response Team to direct campaign funding, expressed deep appreciation for the youth group’s contribution.
“We’re so inspired by the leadership exhibited by the youth group at Magnolia Park UMC and deeply grateful for their gift,” he said. “They give us hope for the future. We are so humbled and encouraged by the fact that people of all ages and backgrounds across our state and country are partnering with us in critically important anti-racism and racial reconciliation efforts.”
In conjunction with their fundraising effort, Magnolia Park youth and young adults created a powerful video series in which each of them talked about how racism has impacted their lives.
Halle, who is Black and Hispanic, described the micro-aggressions she recalls from the time she was young—like seeing only white dolls in stores—and somberly described the bullying she experienced in school and the times she was compared to an animal. “I’m trying to make it so no other child has to feel the way I did, that no other child wishes they could just scratch their skin off because they didn’t feel as pretty as other kids,” she explained in her video testimony. “In the end, we all bleed the same blood.”
Meanwhile, a biracial young adult named Nakayla recalled walking around a mall in a group at 10 or 11 years old when a man screamed at her: “Go back to where you came from” and then told an adult with her, “Obviously she doesn’t belong here.” The man tried to become physically violent when the group started to walk away—and when the police came, they asked if the group had done anything to provoke the man and misinterpreted much of the situation. “It is very clear…that the system we depend on is corrupt,” Nakayla concluded. “Police use their power to make people of color feel intimidated and as if they have done something wrong even if they haven’t.”
The video testimonies were shared with the congregation and surrounding community, and those viewing were invited to donate to a GoFundMe page whose proceeds were distributed to the “Just Love” campaign and Reclaim the Block, an organizing initiative urging Minneapolis to move money from the police department into other areas of the city’s budget that promote community health and safety.
“When we wanted to do something, we realized church is a safe place,” Nakayla said last month. “All of us there have the same goal in mind of letting God work through us to make things better. Using this platform where other people and other Christians and Methodists could hear our voices—God was calling us to make a change and use this platform He’s given us.”
Emily, who is 18 and Hispanic, described in her video being called a “disgrace” for not being able to speak Spanish. More than anything, she hopes that the video series inspires other young people to tell their stories so that people can come together to both understand and end racism.
“I hope to see everyone working together,” she said. “We’re all the same in the inside.”
Nakayla explained that sometimes youth and young adults are dismissed because of their age. She wants people watching the videos and reading about the youth group’s donation to know that young people take it seriously when they put a message out there.
“It means a lot when people take the time to hear what we have to say,” she said. “Be generous in listening. We just want to be heard and we just want to make a change.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church