Teens discuss racism on bus trip
This summer, 22 teens participated in the RCA's first ever youth Sankofa, traveling through the Deep South to visit civil rights sites and discuss righteous responses to racism.
The teens and six adult leaders left from General Synod 2012. Before they boarded a bus, they were prayed over by delegates during closing worship. Then they traveled from Palos Heights, Illinois, to Alabama and Georgia and back again. Along the way they stopped at landmark sites and museums related to the civil rights movement. Between stops, they also watched movies related to racism and discussed what they were seeing and experiencing.
A strong community developed among the teens during the trip. "I love everyone in the group," says 18-year-old Camden Grabill from First Reformed Church in Zeeland, Michigan.
"My favorite parts were the discussions amongst peers and undoubtedly the ‘open mic' on the bus," he says. "Everyone was so willing to share." Throughout Sankofa, participants are partnered with someone from a different racial-ethnic background. They discuss site visits, relevant movies, and personal experiences with their partners and with the larger group.
Shanice Tolbert, who attends Calvary Community Church (RCA) in South Holland, Illinois, was 15 during the trip. "It was life changing," she says. "It just was amazing." She says the trip helped her learn about and appreciate the civil rights movement, giving a whole different understanding than she had grasped in school. Because of what she learned on the trip, Tolbert intends to stop judging people.
Grabill shared similar sentiments. "I intend to stereotype and judge people less," he says. "I realized how much people of other races worry about race and how little we as Caucasian males worry about race. I strive to make people of other races even more comfortable when I meet them, and always treat them with respect."
Planning for the youth Sankofa began after a group of pastors and church leaders went on Sankofa. The pastors were part of a "journey group" learning community, and they wanted teens from their churches to experience the power of Sankofa for themselves. Before the journey group wrapped up, they began to plan the youth trip. Their churches were represented on the trip, and the invitation was broadened to include others, as well.
The RCA has offered Sankofa trips for adults since 2009.