Discovering Life on the Edge of Luminous Darkness

If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me
become night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you, the night is
as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
— Psalm 139:11-12
 1 Adapted from the prologue of Howard Thurman’s book  The Luminous Darkness , which is a brilliant analysis of the social and spiritual effects of racial segregation and the resources required for social transformation

1 Adapted from the prologue of Howard Thurman’s book The Luminous Darkness, which is a brilliant analysis of the social and spiritual effects of racial segregation and the resources required for social transformation

Becoming God’s beloved community is like being a crew of deep sea divers seeking a great treasure in the depths of the ocean. As they begin their journey the divers first pass through the ‘belt of fishes.’ This is a wide band of light reflected from the surface of the sea. From this area they move to a depth of water that cannot be penetrated by light above the surface. It is dark, foreboding, and eerie. The divers’ immediate reaction is apt to be one of fear and sometimes a sudden spasm of panic that soon passes. As they drop deeper and deeper into the abyss, slowly their eyes begin to pick up the luminous quality of the darkness; what was fear is relaxed and they move into the lower region with confidence and peculiar vision.[1]

15 years ago, Urban Hope was launched to bear witness to God’s beloved community in Walltown by cultivating economic, educational and spiritual resources among youth and their families. Five years ago, I joined the ministry, as director, with the goal of building a pathway to organizational leadership for young adults from the neighborhood. The vision was to make Urban Hope not just a ministry run for Walltown, but a ministry run by Walltown. I write you today, on the verge of our 15th year of summer camp, excited to announce that such a leadership transition will happen by the end of 2018! However, it is a challenging announcement to make knowing that this summer will be the last year of the Urban Hope Summer Camp. Like urban communities across the country and throughout the city of Durham, Walltown is undergoing a process of gentrification that is making it unaffordable for many black working class families to continue living here. This has made it difficult to connect with the amount of kids and parents we once did, forcing us to ask difficult questions of our work. Should we expand our focus to youth from around the city while keeping our activities in Walltown? Should we pack up and move our efforts to another neighborhood?

 At a March retreat, we gathered with our young adult leaders to explore how our strengths can help us overcome the fears of an unknown future

At a March retreat, we gathered with our young adult leaders to explore how our strengths can help us overcome the fears of an unknown future

While there are no easy answers, I know the course that Urban Hope takes must be charted by the young adults who call Walltown home. Yet, for many of them, navigating a future with no summer camp is a daunting prospect. The summer camp is how we got started. It has been the most visible expression of our mission. Who are we if it goes away? How do we move forward without it? Since November, we have been gathering monthly with our young adult leaders to explore those questions—grieving the loss, reflecting on wisdom gained, affirming the gifts among us, and casting a shared vision for what comes next. It is a journey that has taken us below the surface into the dark unknown, tempting us to give in to fear and give up. Through it all though, I have learned to remain hopeful, believing that the summer camp is just one of many ways for us to live as God’s beloved community. All you have to do is take a look at our academic-year programs, where several of our young adult leaders are already embodying this truth. This fall, Isaiah Simms, Jr. (basketball coach), Robert Johnson (Young Leaders Group coordinator), and Jennifer Jones (academic coach at the WAY), will serve as the core members of a new leadership council that will guide our work into the future. As we begin to recognize the luminous quality of the darkness we have been traveling through, we will see that although this may be the last summer of camp, the spirit of beloved community that we have cultivated together over the years can live on through us, forever.

Sponsor A Young Hero at the 2018 Urban Hope Summer Camp!!!

The 2018 Urban Hope Summer Camp (UH2018) will run for six weeks, from June 18th thru July 27th, serving approximately 30 students in grades 5–10. We have also invited 5 college students and young professionals from “across the street and across the country” who will come and serve as camp counselors. Our approach is to provide dynamic and enriching opportunities for youth to gain knowledge, skills and experience through hands-on business ventures, spiritual formation, physical fitness, cultural arts activities, and community engagement projects. As we embark on our 15th and final year of summer camp, we invite you to support us in making memories and building momentum for the road ahead. Would you consider making a tax-deductible donation to sponsor the young people who will attend the 2018 Urban Hope Summer Camp? In order to make camp affordable in Walltown, we only charge a fraction of the cost and even still about a third of our campers will need full scholarships. This year, we are seeking to raise $20,000 to make sure that every kid who wants to attend camp can. A gift of $250 will provide one week of camp for a young person and a gift of $1,500 will cover the entire summer. Of course, we greatly appreciate gifts below, beyond, and in between these amounts as well. To give, please visit our donation page. Your gift will allow young people to experience the vision of beloved community that has sustained our work over the years and to create a spark of energy that will carry us into the future!

 Robert (center) hanging with some young heroes at the Carter G. Woodson African-American Museum's Legacy Garden on a recent spring break service trip to Tampa, Florida

Robert (center) hanging with some young heroes at the Carter G. Woodson African-American Museum's Legacy Garden on a recent spring break service trip to Tampa, Florida

 P.S. On May 12th, UH Leadership Team member, Ed Cvelich, and I saw Frank Smith (right) graduate from NC A&T with a degree in business management. Frank and his brother, William (left), who is serving in the military, grew up in Walltown attending the Summer Camp. Frank worked as a camp counselor for two summers and is one of 17 students who have received a $500 UH College Scholarship over the years!

P.S. On May 12th, UH Leadership Team member, Ed Cvelich, and I saw Frank Smith (right) graduate from NC A&T with a degree in business management. Frank and his brother, William (left), who is serving in the military, grew up in Walltown attending the Summer Camp. Frank worked as a camp counselor for two summers and is one of 17 students who have received a $500 UH College Scholarship over the years!