“What are the churches doing? We have a church on every corner in the black community. What are these preachers doing, why aren’t the doors open throughout the week?” One hears such questions often on the West Side.
The escalation of teens being killed in our communities, and with school out for the summer, concern about young people and their welfare prompted Greater Saint John Bible Church (1256 N. Waller) to address the issue with “Teens Friday Night Socials,” something church organizers developed to keep young people off the streets and provide supervised activities on the church premises.
The event is organized by the program director and the youth of the church. Evalena Crittle, youth program director/coordinator, said, “We thought there was a lot of violence going on in our streets between our teens within the Austin community, and we wanted to create a safe environment on Friday nights where youth could come out and have a great time. We have different themes such as ‘1970s parties’ and ‘Theater night.’ We have it here at our church every first and third Friday and at New Birth Church on west North Avenue every second and fourth Friday. Later on this month, we are planning a celebration for our teens who have graduated, teens who are on the honor roll, perfect attendance, teens who have had special honors and things of that nature.”
The participants range in age from 12 to 19, Crittle said, “which is a very delicate and crucial age. When they come, their parents bring them and when they leave, the parents pick them up. And for those who don’t have rides, we make sure they get home.”
On a recent Friday, two rooms of the church were being used to show movies. One room was showing the movie First Sunday and the other was Daddy’s Little Girl.
Young people like Shakiyla Harris also participate in organizing the events. They bring to the church leaders such issues as dealing with peer pressure, abuse at home, feelings of low esteem, violence at school and how to deal with anger.
Another Austin area church holding similar events for teens is New Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church, (4301 W. Washington Blvd.) where Rev. Dr. Marshall Hatch is pastor. The church is planning to set up large movie screens to show movies, as well as structured, entertaining activities for young people. Rev. Acree and Rev. Hatch often work together along with many others to address the issue of teen violence. They recently hosted a large forum on teen violence at Jacob Caruthers’ Inner Cities Studies on Chicago’s South Side.