The theme for day 4 of the ELCA Youth Gathering was Rise Up to Break the Chains that keep us from being reconciled with God and reconciled with our neighbors. This day was also our Proclaim Story day, where we gathered with the rest of the Metro-Chicago synod to explore how God is in our story and how God is in the stories of others.
Before our Proclaim Story event, the Heitz-Squad began the day with our “first 15” discussion and prayer time and had a little free time in the Cobo Center. At 10:30am, we met up with Luther Memorial Church from Lincoln Square neighborhood in Chicago and made posters and prepared for a rally. After posters were made and parts of the rally were assigned and practiced, we headed to Hart Plaza to gather others in our synod for the rally.
At 11:30am, ECT (Edgewater Congregations Together) youth Boyosa and Ngbarazere began gathering the group by playing their djembe drums.
At 11:45am, Ngbarazere (ECT youth) and Noah (Luther Memorial youth) started the rally by leading the group in singing Wade in the Waters.
Then Ngbarazere and Noah continued:
“We come together this afternoon as followers of Jesus and as members of the human race to find, with one another the strength to join our God in bringing reconciliation, peace, and justice in this world. We come here this afternoon as a response to our call from the prophet Micah to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. We come here this afternoon because Jesus – our God – who came into this world in the flesh as a brown-skinned refugee, came proclaiming good news to the poor, bringing release to the captives, giving sight to the blind, and letting the oppressed go free, and he calls ALL of his followers to do so, as well.
Today, the Klu Klux Klan is participating in a rally in South Carolina, protesting the removal of the Confederate flag – a symbol of hate and inequality. However, while the KKK is brining about a message of hate this afternoon, we are here raising our voices with thousands of others around our country who are participating in counter-rallies today, bringing about a message of love.
And not only are we gathering together today for this rally to counter the hateful message of the KKK, but we are also rallying together because the KKK rally is connected to a greater problem in our country.
From the multiple incidences of racialized police brutality in Ferguson, Baltimore, Cleveland, McKinney, Texas, Detroit…. to the high numbers of people of color being imprisoned throughout our country for small offenses, to the horrific shooting of nine of our black brothers and sisters during a prayer meeting at mother Emanuel AME Church because of the color of their skin, to the intentional burning down of at least four black churches since the shooting: we are reminded that the sin of racism still prevails throughout the systems of our country.
On June 23, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood in front of almost 30,000 people just a few steps from here at the Cobo Center. There, he proclaimed: “I have a dream: that one day all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing with the Negroes in the spiritual of old: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
So today, we come together as the body of Christ to confess of this sin of systemic racism and to confess of our own participation in and benefits from it. We come here to denounce this evil sin and to repent of it, asking God to help us turn away from it. We come here mourning the loss of the nine beloved children of God whose lives were taken away from them during a prayer meeting and we come here mourning with ALL of our brothers and sisters of color who live in fear today because racism still exists.
We are rallying together today because what hate burns down, love builds up. And no matter the message we hear from others around our country, we are here to boldly proclaim that black lives DO matter to God and they DO matter to us.”
They read scripture and led us in confession and prayer, and then we sang “We Shall Overcome,” ending with the verse “We’ll walk hand in hand” as we held hands.
Then everyone processed to the Masonic Temple following the cross. There were at least 200-300 people. During this 45 minute march, Ngbarazere and Noah led the group in chants and Kalleb (ECT youth) led the group in singing freedom songs.
This was such a powerful action. People we passed by during our march honked at us, nodded at us, or cheered, and some people even sang along with us. After the action, a few youth who participated in the march thanked our group for providing them with an opportunity to participate in this march. They even expressed interest in organizing with our youth around issues of injustice in Chicago.
I am so darn proud of these youth for rising up and leading hundreds of their peers in this action of proclaiming justice! I am so blessed to experience God incarnate through their witness! They are such an inspiration to me.
During Proclaim Story Day at Masonic Temple, we heard people’s stories and explored and shared our’s with one another.
Then we treated ourselves to a great meal at Rub BBQ Pub.
And then we headed back to Ford Field for our evening mass gathering. There, we heard inspiring stories about breaking the chains of depression from Rozella White – the ELCA program director for Young Adult ministry, of breaking the chains of homelessness from Veronika Scott – the founder of the Empowerment Plan in Detroit, and of breaking the chains of child poverty from Civil Rights Activist Marian Wright Edelman.
Here is an update from Maku, an eighth grader from Unity Lutheran Church:
Our theme of the day is to break chains.
As we entered Saturday of the ELCA youth gathering, we had more of a slow paced day. We did a lot of speaking with God and with one another, and we had loads of great food. Starting in the morning, we left our hotel around 7:55 and gathered in the Cobo center to eat a casual breakfast, such as muffins, orange juice, and breakfast sandwiches. We then broke off and had a little bit of free time followed by a counter rally to proclaim racial justice and equality. And the rally was great! There was music, speeches, and loads of marching. We then finished our rally and met with our Chicago synod to gather and do faithful interactive activities. We left the synod around 3:00 PM. Then we went to a restaurant that was famous for their signature slim shady burger. As we finished the meal we headed to the Hart plaza and went on a walking tour of Detroit. We then went to the mass gathering where we worshiped and I witnessed very powerful speakers, mind blowing performances and got to see Skillet perform live!!
So God’s lesson to break chains has been a powerful message because it allows us to go and understand one another and in a sense it reminds me of breaking restrictions from temptations and sins and allow us to be close to each other.
And here is a reflection from Katie, a freshman from Ebenezer Lutheran:
Today we experienced Jesus in our midst through protest. We marched across Detroit; signs, cross and bullhorn in hand, we proclaimed God’s love for every man, woman and child, regardless of the color of their skin or the content of their character. It was a very hot day and some of us marched having forgotten to bring water or not having eaten enough. However, we were paid back for our hard work and dedication after arriving to a well air conditioned mosque and experiencing God through worship. And, for those of us who were hungry, we were rewarded with a nice lunch at a barbecue restaurant where we connected with our friends from Luther Memorial. God rewarded us for proclaiming his love and faith today and I consider that to be the highlight of my day.