Who are you? How do you answer that question? If someone had asked you that question when you were 17 or 18 years old, how would you have answered it? Why do I ask the question? Let me explain.
In a recent ZOOM meeting made up of both black and white Christian Businessmen, one of the black businessmen showed a picture of 15 black youths (ages 15 to 19) that he worked with on a recent service project. He asked those of us on the call what we noticed about the picture. I commented that of the group, only 3 of the youths were smiling. In fact, the other 12 were not only ‘not smiling’ but they appeared to have angry expressions on their faces. It did not look like a group of happy, young black kids who were having fun doing a service project in a neighborhood. Then the gentleman on the call who had shared the picture with us said that of the 15 youths in that picture, 13 of them were carrying handguns with them at the time. When he said that, I was dumbfounded.
Almost in disbelief I blurted out, “You’ve got to be kidding me! WHY are so many of those kids carrying handguns on a Saturday morning while they are doing a service project?” Before he could answer, another black gentlemen on the call, a man who taught middle school in the inner city for 28 years and is now an ordained minister said, “It’s an IDENTITY problem. They don’t believe they have any value in this world.”
What an eye-opening moment that was for me! For as many black athletes and men I have been around in my life, it never occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, at the root of some of their problems was a horrible depiction of their own identity. As the Pastor so clearly said, “They don’t believe they have any value in this world.”
Now, can you even imagine what it might be like to feel that way about yourself? Think about it. What would your life be like if you woke up every morning believing you have no value in this world? If you truly believed that, if that was your mindset, then what, if anthing, might have value in your life? If you don’t see yourself as having any value, then most likely you don’t see other people as having any value either. If that is the case, then how can you ever learn to love your neighbor? After all, you can’t even love yourself! You have no value!
This is a horribly sad situation. To be young and black (or white) in this country and to see yourself as having no value whatsoever, living in an environment where you see very little hope for the future; what kind of identity can you have? Maybe carrying that handgun suddenly makes you feel important? Maybe you believe that carrying that gun will bring you respect that otherwise you would never have? I certainly don’t have the answer to this very difficult reality, but I do know this. In the city of Indianapolis as of June 18, 2020, we have already exceeded 100 homicides and many of those homicides involve young people. Handguns in the hands of adolescents do NOT lead to good outcomes.
In this world, we all need to understand that above all else, every one of us is a loved child of God. Just the way we are, with all our flaws and for any number of sins we have committed, God still loves us and He forgives us. Somehow, this is a message we need to communicate to all young people regardless of their race, color or creed. This is a message ALL of humanity needs to hear!
In life we often tend to compare ourselves to others, and those others are usually people who either have things we don’t have or things we want. But, we need to understand that each of us was created by God to individually fulfill a specific purpose in His world. That person we often compare ourselves to could never fulfill the promise or complete the plan that God has for YOU. Our identity needs to be grounded in the simple fact that each of us is a loved child of God and that each of us has value. It is our responsibility as faithful followers to do everything we can to educate ourselves and develop those God-given gifts He blessed us with. Every person has value!
When it comes to having an identity, I love the example that Jaccob Slavin sets for us. Slavin, a professional hockey player in the National Hockey League says, “I’m not a hockey player who happens to be a Christian; I am a Christian who just happens to play hockey.” What a powerful testimony and reminder that nothing in this life is more important than identifying yourself as a Christian above all else.
What’s your identity? Who are you? When was the last time you looked in the mirror and asked yourself that question? How do you define yourself to…yourself? To others? What do your actions say abort your identity? When it comes to treating anyone you come in contact with (“your neighbors”), do you love them? Do you remember how Jesus Christ showed His love for us? He died on the cross for our sins.
If you are a teenager or adolescent walking around with a handgun – Be Brave! Put the gun down! Get rid of it! Be Brave! and accept a new reality, a mindset that says, “YES, I am a loved child of God! I DO have value in this world!” Make the choice to do this and your life will never be the same. God loves you.