On Monday, August 1st we celebrated the culmination of our 13th Urban Hope Summer Camp! The banquet, themed in the "Wild, Wild West," offered a space for parents, family members, and residents of Walltown to take pride and joy in the gifts and talents of our young people. Dynamic photography slideshows, praise dancing, hip hop theatre, a modeling production, and much more. Our guest speaker was former Urban Hope camper, Ezekiel Taylor, a young preacher, recording artist, and author, who encouraged us to say, "bye!", to the bad habits, people and practices that keep us from experiencing godly transformation. In the spirit of transformation, here are several snapshots from the summer that highlight the various ways God has impacted the lives of campers, counselors, and the community.
Discovering God, Discovering our Gifts
When God reveals our gifts to us, often times we aren’t sure if the gift is really our gift. This summer, through a relationship with one particular camper, God revealed to me a gift for encouraging and uplifting others. It was Ta’Kayla’s first time connecting with Urban Hope and she had never attended a summer camp before. Through our daily devotional time in the Walltown’s Finest (9th & 10th graders) track, I also learned that she had never really learned about God and Christianity. During camp, I had the privilege of not only helping her gain spiritual insight, but also helping her grow more confident in other aspects of her life.
One reason Ta’Kayla and I connected so much was because she joined the “ROC” elective. Electives are a segment of the day where campers have the opportunity to engage in and learn more about an activity or talent that a counselor is passionate about. The ROC focuses on modeling and hip-hop dancing as those are things that really excite me. Over the course of the elective, I had the pleasure of watching her grow in self-confidence and in the courage to try new things.
I have always enjoyed helping others grow in clarity and confidence about who they are but this summer really helped me see my gift more clearly. Over the course of six weeks, I was able to not only become a friend to Ta’Kayla, but I was able to influence the way she viewed God and God’s love. God calls us to fellowship, to love one another and to live in a way that uplifts others. Getting to invest in Ta’Kayla allowed me to embrace this call and design for my life.
-Frank Smith, 2nd year Camp Counselor from Walltown studying business at North Carolina A&T State University
Hearing the Cry of our Young People
This summer during Freedom Readers, the Bull City Leaders (5th & 6th graders) track read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. The book takes place after the Reconstruction of the Civil War, a time where although slavery had ended there remained significant racial hostility between whites and blacks. The kids learned about the historical atrocity of lynching and the unjust practice of chain gangs. Their unfamiliarity with these realities led to discussions about their meaning, what it meant to the people at that time, and how it influenced the characters in the book. The book also brought up a lot of conversation around the issues we still face today. The week after the police shootings in Dallas, Texas, one of the campers asked: "Why is it fair when a white officer kills an unarmed black man but it's not fair for a black man to kill a white armed officer?" How do you answer that question? The issue of race goes so much deeper than a quick, simple answer, but to engage this generation of youth on these questions may be one key to bringing to light a lot of the anger and the need for healing.
-Jean Fitzgerald, 6th year Camp Counselor originally from Pennsylvania but now living in Walltown at the Alexander House
Towards a Journey Definitely Worthwhile
You never know what all you are going to get out of an experience prior to actually going through it. During my experience at the Urban Hope Summer Camp, I came to understand how my liberation is bound up with others. Do you believe that a sense of freedom and joy can be released in you from watching someone else display their gift? I've experienced it before and experienced it again watching Erica and Christal praise dance. Our gifts don't just stop with what they can do for us, our gifts affect others lives as well. In practice, Erica (left) wasn't really enthused and Christal (right) was nervous. Over the course of our rehearsals, I got an opportunity to witness their transformation. Instead of nervousness, Christal became confident in her movement. I witnessed Erica being set on fire for the Lord and worshipping God through dance. As a passionate dancer, it was amazing to see how God used dance as a means to develop these girls. Not only did I see them grow, but I also grew with them...a journey definitely worthwhile.
-Cherry Carnes, 1st year Camp Counselor from the University of Georgia who is pursuing a vocation teaching and developing young people
Finding My Passion in the Pursuit of Youth
This is a picture of me and Timothy, a camper in the Bull City Leaders track, during one of our Born To Shine lessons. I chose this picture because it expresses the joy I felt interacting with the kids. In months before the summer, I felt disappointed in myself and anxious because I felt as though my life hadn't been as productive as others. I struggled with depression knowing that I had not yet discovered my purpose or passion. During my time at Urban Hope, I could hear God speak to me through the children I worked with, reminding me that they are my passion. As I engaged our youth, there was no more depression because I was focusing my energy on the young leaders whom I truly came to love. I learned to live for the moment and to not be full of worry. God transformed my heart from anxiety and inadequacy to feelings of peace and hope and I'm so thankful.
"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you, to give you hope and a future."-Jeremiah 29:11
-Destin Johnson, 1st year Camp Counselor from Durham who will spend the year as an Urban Hope intern living in the Alexander House
Getting Out of the Boat
Sometimes embarking on new paths requires us to step outside of the limits of our traditional understanding. At Urban Hope we intentionally leverage relationships to experiment with what it means to be new creations in Christ. This summer, Duke Divinity student, Carla Green, took her talents to Walltown and discovered how God is working through our ministry to “raise up generations of young heroes.” As a Duke Divinity alum myself, I (Brandon) asked Carla to reflect on her experience. Be sure to check out the video highlighting her time with us!
Brandon: This summer I have witnessed you wrestle with taking risks, both theologically and ministerially. Your leadership and facilitation of our Summer Camp Spiritual Retreat stands out. What were your initial thoughts when I charged you with that task? How did you grow through the process?
Carla: My initial thoughts and feelings were of inadequacy and uncertainty. I thought that since I had not led a spiritual retreat before that it would not turn out right. I wanted it to be perfect, but friends and fellow staff members reminded me that it did not have to be perfect. One of the things that worked well during the staff retreat was the second day when we did quiet time with God and an affirmation of staff members. I believe that me being transparent and open with my summer colleagues allowed me to grow as an intern and more importantly as a person.
Brandon: One of the things we strive to do at Urban Hope is create a context where staff and interns can share their gifts with our young people in hopes of illuminating God’s presence and power in our midst. I love how you brought your love for theatre to our community and worked with kids on a hip hop-infused drama. What did that experience reveal to you about God and your calling?
Carla: This experience solidified what God has called me to do. I am happy that I got to merge hip-hop music and a topic that is real to me and then finally put it all together in a drama! When I was in high school and in undergraduate studies I would always tell people that I wanted to be a minister and do dramatic arts. At times It would be hard for me to believe that it would truly come to pass. Now that I am living it, I feel like my dreams are coming true! Everything that I spoke is coming to pass and it is truly a blessing!
Brandon: Often the most critical aspects of theological field education are embracing the context where you are called to serve. It requires a deep sense of humility and openness to new people and new places. What has your experience and engagement in the Walltown neighborhood taught you about community, hospitality, and welcoming the stranger?
Carla: The Walltown neighborhood means so much to me. I have learned so much about what the definition of a “family” is. This neighborhood has showed me that a family is not just determined by blood, but rather by loyalty, acceptance and vulnerability. For example, the time that I spent helping in the Walltown Neighborhood Ministries Food Bank gave me an opportunity to connect with people in the neighborhood, be more sensitive to people’s needs, and show gratitude in ways that I have never done before. Overall, I have learned that showing vulnerability opens up strangers to welcome you and in turn be more hospitable.
-Carla Green is a rising third year student at Duke Divinity School and is in school for her Masters of Divinity and Baptist certificate. After school Carla is interested in pursuing youth pastoring and further work and education in theology and the arts.