More than 80 youth gathered at St. Matthew UMC in Chicago on Saturday, Nov. 21 despite the winter storm which blanketed the area with snow. This was the second annual youth summit organized by the NIC Urban Strategy committee. This year’s theme was “Celebrating the Death of Hand Gun Violence in Our Time.”
With more than 400 homicides in Chicago thus far this year, the ripple effect of handgun violence and its collateral damage has reached epidemic proportions. Thus, there are those calling for it to be treated a public health issue said the summit organizers.
The Rev. Julian “J.Kwest” DeShazier, Senior Pastor of University Church Chicago, led worship and the KLAD Hornz band led a New Orleans style “second line” funeral procession.
Urban Strategy Coordinator Rev. Robert Biekman said he was energized by the days events and the commitment of the youth who braved the storm to come out and participate in the event.
“I believe our youth really get it. Events like this invest in their lives,” said Rev. Biekman. “I was particularly moved when during worship, preacher/rapper the Rev. Julian DeShazier encouraged youth to “get up” and make a difference and the youth took action by knocking down a wall made of blocks symbolizing the obstacles that are preventing us from realizing the end of gun violence.”
Youth also took part in action labs that focused on “Healing Circles”, “Youth Organizing for Action” and “Remembering the Victims of Handgun Violence.” Each was designed to inform, resource and equip youth to make changes in their neighborhoods, churches and schools.”
Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence exhibit “Not Forgotten: Remembering the Victims” of statues dressed in the clothing of victims of handgun violence was also on display at this event.
Kristin Kumpf, United Methodist General Board of Church & Society (GBCS)’s Director of Organizing attended the summit and said the event is a great start to find change. “I have for a long time been concerned by the violence on our streets and it’s awesome that the youth are coming together saying there needs to be a change,” she said. “That can happen as part of the church when we come together as United Methodists across the city.”
Many of the youth said they knew someone who was impacted by gun violence or came wanting to learn more how they can make a difference in the city to make it safer. “I think we should write a letter to the President, senators and the Supreme court not to sell guns anymore,” remarked one girl. “I think we should do whatever it takes to prevent more deaths from gun violence and remember we are all gathered here as one body of Christ,” said another.
Bishop Sally Dyck encouraged the youth to take what they learned at the summit back to their churches, communities, and families. “I hope this event is a time of encouragement and inspiration and you will keep and live out that hope everyday,” said Bishop Dyck.