Cultural Resources




Sunday, October 6, 2013

Laura A. McCrae, Guest Cultural Resource Commentator
Rev. L.A. McCrae is an advocate for all persons who live on the periphery of society. L.A.'s self-designed project as a recipient of the Fund for Theological Education Ministry Fellowship focused on issues of Black, Lesbian, Same-Gender Loving Womyn who had been excluded from main-line Protestant churches. She is a Co-Founder and Senior Consultant of ThreeSisters Consulting.

I. Introduction

Education, youth liberation, and faith have been inextricably linked in the Black American faith experience. Since their inceptions, our church communities have been the fertile breeding ground for youth empowerment, youth liberation, and youth activism. Underlying all of this was a selfless passion to serve and connect as one to truly build a liberated community of God's people here on earth. In so much as this is true, it is also true that youth Sundays have historically played a role in educating, empowering, and shaping the spiritual lives of young people.

Youth Sunday provides the church contemporary opportunities to allow youth leadership to grow and to be nurtured by a loving and supportive community. It is during these Sundays that our future community and faith leaders are shaped. It is also during these Sundays that young people come to love God in an intimate way, that young people can truly express their faith in ways that are authentic, and, most importantly, on these Sundays young people can come to love themselves more or for the first time as their self-esteem as called and equipped leaders of the Most High God is nurtured.

Further, Youth Sunday provides an opportunity for our young people to showcase the gifts they have been blessed to receive. These special days throughout the year allow young people to truly live and embody their faith and theology in ways that are inspiring to us all. The observance of a Youth Sunday, whether it is once a year, once a quarter, or once a month, calls the people of God to continually re-examine our faith and our gifts for ministry. Youth Sunday becomes a catalyst for exploring new ways to express the messages of the faithful. These Sundays become opportunities for self-transformation. In addition, allowing our young people to lead calls us into ministry each day of the week as we look to being our most authentic selves so that communities and souls are transformed.1 This moment in our church worship is a pause, as adults recognize and appreciate the gifts of this new generation of spiritual leaders. Their collective witness motivates us all into daily action around our commitments to truth, justice, and liberation.

On this day, we celebrate the lives, potential, and future of these leaders. For this, we are extremely grateful.

II. Songs That Speak to the Moment2

Without a doubt, there are a wide variety of ways Youth Sundays are crafted throughout the country and across denominations. It is important to allow young people to bring their most authentic selves to church so that they and communities can be transformed. We often allow the young people to share songs from their everyday experiences that speak to their sense of self and their spiritual journeys. The songs below are not "traditional" church songs but are songs that effortlessly connect our faith stories in modern contexts.

Over the course of the last several weeks, young people were asked to tweet or text me songs that they would envision using in a Youth Sunday worship service.3 They were told that their suggestions would be used for others around the country looking for cultural resources on how to build positive self-esteem in young people. It must be noted that these were young people who were deeply involved in their church communities spanning to those who were not and had not been involved for years. I invite you to take a look at their recommendations.

Black Is
by Fertile Ground4

(Lyrics unavailable; see video)

This is a great song for young people. It helps them develop self-esteem by hearing lyrics that celebrate the beauty of blackness.

by Jill Scott

This song is excellent for helping young people hear a positive message about the ways in which we can live a golden life blessed by the Eternal Provider.

Heyyy, Ohh, Heyyy, Yeah, Ohh, Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeahhhh

I'm taking my freedom,
Pulling it off the shelf,
Putting it on my chain,
Wear it around my neck,
I'm taking my freedom,
Putting it in my car,
Wherever I choose to go,
It will take me far,


I'm livin' my life like it's golden
Livin' my life like it's golden, [x3]
Livin' my life like it's golden, golden,
Livin' my life like it's golden, [x4]
Livin' my life like it's golden, golden,

I'm taking my own freedom
Putting it in my song,
Singing loud and strong,
Grooving all day long,
I'm taking my freedom,
Putting it in my stroll,
I'll be high-steppin' y'all,
Letting the joy unfold,


I'm holding on to my freedom,
Can't take it from me,
I was born into it,
It comes naturally,
I'm strumming my own freedom,
Playing the god in me,
Representing his glory,
Hope he's proud of me,


I'm living my life like its golden, golden, golden, golden, golden, golden, [x2]


Livin' my life like it's golden,
It really matters to me, Ohhh5

How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)
by Marvin Gaye

The young people who recommended this song thought that it would be great to use during times of prayer. This song was written as a romantic song. However, the lyrics can be partly adapted to show the amazing love of God and the sweetness of salvation.

How sweet it is to be loved by you
How sweet it is to be loved by you

I needed the shelter of someone's arms and there you were
I needed someone to understand my ups and downs
and there you were
With sweet love and devotion
deeply touching my emotion
I want to stop and thank you baby
I just want to stop and thank you baby

How sweet it is to be loved by you
How sweet it is to be loved by you

I close my eyes at night,
wondering where would I be without you in my life
Everything I did was just a bore,
everywhere I went it seems I'd been there before
But you brightened up for me all of my days
With a love so sweet in so many ways
I want to stop and thank you baby
I want to stop and thank you baby

How sweet it is to be loved by you
How sweet it is to be loved by you

You were better to me than I've been to myself
For me, there's you and there ain't nobody else
I want to stop and thank you baby
I just want to stop and thank you baby

[Repeat and fade:]
How sweet it is to be loved by you
How sweet it is to be loved by you6

by India Arie

This song was recommended as a potential selection that could be used for liturgical dance and for helping each of us realize that we are "marching to Zion," that beautiful place that is both beyond and within us.

The time is right
I'm gonna pack my bags
And take that journey down the road
'Cause over the mountain I see the bright sun shinning
And I want to live inside the glow

I wanna go to place where I am nothing and everything
That exists between here and nowhere
I wanna got to a place where time has no consequence oh yeah
The sky opens to my prayers

I wanna go to beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,
I wanna go to beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,
I wanna go to beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,
I wanna go to beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,

Please understand that it's not that I don't care
But right know these walls are closing in on me
I love you more than I love life itself

But I need to find a place where I can breathe
I can breathe
I wanna go to place were I can hold the intangible
And let go of the pain with all my might

I wanna go to a place where I am suspended in ecstasy
Somewhere between dark and light
Where wrong becomes right

I wanna go to beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,
I wanna go to beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,
I wanna go to beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,
I wanna go to beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,

[Bridge x5]7

Beautiful Flower
by India Arie

Young people have listened to this song across all genders and have found it to be empowering and deeply connected with our mission as Christians to help each and every person move from darkness into the light of God's love.

This is a song for every girl who's
Ever been through something
She thought she couldn't make it through
I sing these words because
I was that girl too
Wanting something better than this
But who do I turn to?

Now we're moving from the darkness into the light
This is the defining moment of our lives

'Cause you're beautiful like a flower
More valuable than a diamond
You are powerful like a fire
You can heal the world with your mind

There is nothing in the world that you cannot do
When you believe in you, who are beautiful
Yeah you, who are brilliant
Yeah you, who are powerful
Yeah you, who are resilient

This is a song for every girl who
Feels that she is not special
'Cause she don't look like a supermodel Coke bottle
The next time the radio tells you to shake your moneymaker
Shake your head and tell them, tell them you're a leader

Now we're moving from the darkness into the light
This is the defining moment of our lives

'Cause you're beautiful like a flower
More valuable than a diamond
You are powerful like a fire
You can heal the world with your mind

There is nothing in the world that you cannot do
When you believe in you, who are beautiful
Yeah you, who are brilliant
Yeah you, who are powerful
Yeah you, who are resilient

Yeah you, who are beautiful
Yeah you, who are brilliant
Yeah you, who are powerful
Yeah you, who are resilient

Yeah you, this song is for you
Yeah you, this song is for you
Yeah you, this song is for you
Yeah you, yeah you
You are brilliant8

I Believe I Can Fly
by R. Kelly

This selection is a Youth Sunday classic in that we all are seeking to fly on the wings of God that support us and uplift us daily.

I used to think that I could not go on
And life was nothing but an awful song
But now I know the meaning of true love
I'm leaning on the everlasting arms

If I can see it, then I can do it
If I just believe it, there's nothing to it

I believe I can fly
I believe I can touch the sky
I think about it every night and day
Spread my wings and fly away
I believe I can soar
I see me running through that open door
I believe I can fly
I believe I can fly
I believe I can fly

See I was on the verge of breaking down
Sometimes silence can seem so loud
There are miracles in life I must achieve
But first I know it starts inside of me, oh

If I can see it, then I can be it
If I just believe it, there's nothing to it


Hey, cause I believe in me, oh

If I can see it, then I can do it (I can do it)
If I just believe it, there's nothing to it


Hey, if I just spread my wings
I can fly
I can fly
I can fly, hey
If I just spread my wings
I can fly-eye-eye-eye
Hum, fly-eye-eye9

III. Cultural Response to Significant Aspects of the Text

As each of us is born into the world, we are immediately socialized. The doctor announces our sex as either male or female even if we are hermaphrodites. We are raised in families, which contribute to our process of socialization. The young people who walk into our churches are a part of a global community of Christian believers who have dedicated their lives to Christian service. The Black Church has and will always be a place for helping young people to understand this Cycle of Socialization10 and the ways in which their social identities are formed and shaped. In black churches, the role of the church community is to provide positive support systems to counteract the negative socialization young people receive in the broader society.

There is no specific date to identify the origins of Youth Sunday in the United States. It is clear, however, that since the early 1900s, Youth Sundays in black churches have been linked with social justice, activism, and youth leadership development through the building of positive self-esteem. When the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded, young people contributed to the activism, organizing, and life of the organization. Most of this work was done very early in churches.

W. E. B. DuBois
One of the NAACP founders, W. E. B. Du Bois was very clear in making sure the young people were critical parts of the struggle towards liberation and equality. On many occasions, Du Bois was known to visit churches and talk with preachers and lay persons to encourage them to create positive supports for the youth. While in New York City, Du Bois encountered many young people and encouraged them to share their gifts and skills, often through the oral expression of their writing. Church service and communities became sites for youth of color to receive positive reinforcement of their identity.

As previously stated, young people, through Youth Sundays, are expressing themselves and their faith in relation to the larger societal context. They have been shaped by the cycle of socialization. Their embodied theology and spiritual expression becomes ways to interrupt the cycle of oppression. The cycle of oppression teaches our young people stereotypes of those who have agent identities (those with social power, i.e. men, those of the dominant class, etc.). But, on Youth Sundays, young people begin to gain self-worth and appreciate themselves in a new light by having their gifts uplifted for the glory of God. They may even begin to examine the societal prejudices and discrimination they have faced, particularly in school systems. The church becomes that site of liberation and a space for the sharing of the stories that have shaped their realities. In the sharing of their stories and connecting with others inter-generationally, the cycle of oppression is slowly dismantled.

This is essential in black identity formation as discussed by Drs. Rita Hardiman and Bailey Jackson. In order to build positive self-esteem, youth of color must have a deep understanding of the cycle of socialization and the cycle of oppression.11 Young people must have a deep understanding of agent identities (those with social power who often shape the dominant narrative). There must also be an understanding of target identities (those who lack social power because of their particular identity, such as women, youth, etc.). Young people can find their sense of self and the intersections of social identities in the stories of faith learned in the church community. For instance, young people can understand and hear with new ears a story from our sacred text that connects their historical oppression with their modern-day liberation. This is the power that a Youth Sunday can offer.

Also, Youth Sunday is and has been a call to action. Youth are called into a deeper understanding of themselves and a deeper commitment to the work of justice.

IV. Audio Visual Aids

Many of our congregations are increasingly using digital and audio-visual technology. The pictures below would be great for conversation, study, and worship as we look at creating space for a wide variety of young people who are capable youth leaders.

These pictures, along with others, could be shown during a youth dance performance, during the Spoken Word, and throughout a worship service. It is recommended that these pictures be distributed during the service on social media platforms to spark conversation across generations and in the broader community. We encourage you to ask your young people to look in magazines, newspapers, blog sites (such as Tumblr and WordPress), Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+ to also find art work, quotes, and pictures that speak to crafting positive self-esteem for Youth Sunday.

Example: A group of youth activists participating in the NAACP gathering in 2009. Online location: (accessed 11 March 2013).

Example: The Kid President Video Pep Talk. This would be great to show in service as young people either open or close the worship service. Online location: (accessed 2 March 2013).

Example: Young people embracing their faith and the sacred text. Online location: (accessed 20 March 2013).

Example: Young people reflecting and finding love within. (accessed 14 March 2013).

V. Stories and Illustrations

A. In 2009, the NAACP released an article about a rebirth of youth activism. Youth of color are being called into spaces where they can enhance their community organizing skills and school-based organizing skills. "I just see an increase in young people choosing to be active who want to interact with other young people who are like-minded," said Stefanie Brown, 28, who oversees the organization's Youth and College Division. "Where else can you be a 15-year-old and meet someone else across the country who is also passionate about social justice issues?"

Black churches have often been the place for the intersections of social justice, activism, and faith. Our churches provide an opportunity for social action, theological reflection and faith development to occur. Shayla King, 21, calls us into action: "A lot of youth are seeing that it's their time to be leaders and have their voices heard."12 These voices need to be constantly heard each Sunday during worship services not just on Youth Sundays.

B. Rev. Ray Dancy in Norwalk, Connecticut, works with youth in their quest to end the School-to-Prison Pipeline. There is a critical mass of young people at his church who have committed to learning about their faith through this lens of social justice. Youth Sundays become an opportunity not only to showcase gifts and talents but also to call the church community to action and end the social injustices that disproportionately affect youth of color.

C. In Harford County, Maryland, Black Youth in Action (BYA) is a group of young people and adult allies who work to create positive environments in their churches, schools, and communities and support the building of self-esteem. The events and mentoring that occur in BYA was an extension of the creativity youth brought to the forefront of their churches on Youth Sundays.

D. The summer of 2012 was memorable. There was an "orange" flavor that swept the youth nation as Frank Ocean released his channel ORANGE CD. The CD was refreshing and provided insight into the minds and feelings of many of our young people. When Frank Ocean was asked about why he titled the CD ORANGE, he said that the color orange reminded him of the summer he fell in love as well as the color of happiness when he was a child. Ocean also talked about orange being the color of liberation.

We encourage the youth in our churches to think about the first time that they fell in love with Jesus Christ, and to ask, What did this love feel like in your soul? How does it feel to channel the liberation freely given to you by the love of Jesus? How does it feel to move from this place of liberation as you build a positive life and work to make your community better? This Sunday we encourage you to "Channel YOUR Orange" and live an authentically blessed and, in the words of Jill Scott, "Golden life."

VI. Making It a Memorable Learning Moment

One of the key aspects of youth Sunday lies in the preparation for this Sunday. In order to take the learning "home," there are a couple of recommendations I received directly from young people. Throughout the week, during Sunday school, and during Christian education opportunities, allow the young people to express themselves creatively through a variety of art forms. Below, you will find examples of poems and other creative art projects that have been used by youth groups across the country.

When thinking about the ways in which you can create memorable learning moments, a youth worker in Baltimore, Maryland, encourages us to create projects that allow young people to have something that they can tangibly take with them and/or access from their digital devices. It is important to note that young people of color are especially moved by Spoken Word performances. One recommendation for creating a memorable learning moment is to walk young people through a workshop on developing their own poetry that focuses on positive self-esteem, faith, and youth liberation. After these pieces have been collected over a period of a few weeks (or even during a Confirmation period), there can be a Youth Poetry Slam or Coffeehouse to showcase their work.

As adult allies, it is important that we are open to meeting young people at their places of need. We must stretch to create inclusive and positive environments where everyone feels safe, valued, and affirmed.

Vision Boards

Collect a series of magazines that concern your cultural/ethnic group. Among this collection of magazines, make sure there are magazines that show positive images of young people. Also, you will need construction paper, scissors, and glue.

Instructions: Allow the young people at your church to settle in and explain that they will be silently flipping through magazines and choosing pictures that respond to the questions below. Create a playlist of positive and uplifting music (perhaps choosing from some of the songs above) that will be the background music for their time together.

  1. What do you value?
  2. What are your gifts that you can offer to the church?
  3. Where do you believe God would like to lead you in life?
  4. What Scriptures and songs speak to your faith development?

When everyone has completed their vision boards, ask them to reflect on what they have created, how it speaks to them, and what they have in common with other young people, and ask if there are Scriptures that they can use to guide them on their faith journey and their developmental journey.

"Where I'm From" Poem Template

I am    from ________(specific ordinary item), from                        (product name) and                 (product name).

I am from the                           (home description)                 (adjective)                                (adjective)                  (sensory detail).

I am from the ________ (plant, flower, natural item)                         (the plant, flower, natural item)                                  (description of the natural item).

I'm from the                            (family and tradition) from                            (family tradition)                                              (family tradition), from                       (name of family member)                    (name of another family member).

I'm from the ______(description of family tendency) and from the                          (description of another family tendency) from                        (something you are told often) and                                        (something else you are told often).

I'm from                      (belief that represents where you are from)                (further description of belief).

I'm from                      (family ancestry), and                          (two items that represent your family).

From the                                   (specific family story about a specific person and a detail) the                                              (another detail of another family member).

I am from (leave this open-ended to allow for creative conclusions).

The following prompts are from a workshop by Asheville poet, educator, and performer Glenis Redmond, who has generously offered them to teachers for use with students:

**IMPORTANT—poems should be driven by the author's heart and rhythm. It is not necessary to rhyme each line or that each line has the same number of beats. Lines do not need to be written in order.

Metaphors and Similes

  • Explain each, have students give examples
  • On a board, brainstorm with a class emotions, images, colors (2–3 minutes for each)
  • Students should number notebook paper 1–10
  • Fill each line with "My voice is _____________" using words from the brainstorming session (or their own) to generate sentences.
  • Variation: "I am __________________"

Praise Poem

On a board, brainstorm a list of words with a class. Use animals, gems, and items in nature (2–3 minutes for each)

Brainstorm with the class to complete the following lines:

  • Heritage—family (i.e.: I am from a family with liberating power with a wienerschnitzel flavor)
  • Height—actual
  • Height—mental
  • Color—skin tone
  • Color—personality
  • Animal (that represents you or with which you identify)
  • Nature (compare yourself to something in nature)
  • How I walk in the world

Tribute Poem

On a board, brainstorm a list of positive people (in history, locally, in your family, etc.)

Brainstorm symbols of hope

Brainstorm gems

Match people to gems and symbols

Complete the following lines:

  • Person to which you give tribute
  • Use metaphor or simile to describe that person
  • Use a color
  • Say what that person gives to the world
  • Use a line from a song in your tribute poem

Poem Starter

Each student divides paper into three columns and numbers three lines.

First column—fill each line with an abstract object, something you cannot see (i.e., honesty, faith, love, etc.)

Second column—fill with colors (be creative & original, i.e., silvery blue)

Third column—fill with concrete objects, things you can see (i.e., mountains, river, child)

Circle one from each column.

Use active, descriptive verbs to create sentences concerning the three circled terms (e.g., Faith swells like an overflowing silvery-blue river, quenching thirsty souls.)


Create a Youth Sunday and youth liberation playlist on Spotify, YouTube, or Pandora that can be accessed by all of your young people. With the capabilities of social media, folk who are listening at the time will be able to share their experiences and how these songs have sustained their faith over the course of a week.

VII. Resources


1. Ideas adopted from Black Organizers for Leadership and Dignity retreat, February 2013, at the Franklinton Center in Bricks, North Carolina.

2. It is recommended that these songs be added via Amazon MP3, Spotify, or Pandora so that they can be shared by young people on their social media accounts.

3. These responses were collected on Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook between March 20–29, 2013.

4. "Black Is." By Fertile Ground. Black Is. Baltimore, MD: Blackout Studios, 2004.

5. "Golden." By Jill Scott. Beautifully Human: Words and Sounds Vol. 2. Santa Monica, CA: Hidden Beach Records, 2004.

6. "How Sweet It Is." By Marvin Gaye. How Sweet It Is to Be Loved by You. Detroit, Michigan: Hittsville, U.S.A., 1964.

7. "Beautiful." By India Arie. Acoustic Soul. Detroit, MI: Motown, 2001.

8. "Beautiful Flower." By India Arie. Testimony: Vol. 2, Love & Politics.Detroit, MI: Motown, 2009.

9. "I Believe I Can Fly." By R. Kelly. Space Jam: Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture.New York, NY: Warner Sunset/Atlantic, 1996.

10. Additional resources about the Cycle of Socialization and lesson planning can be found in Adams, Maurianne, Lee Anne Bell, and Pat Griffin, Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook (New York, NY: Routledge, 1997).

11. Ibid.

12. Fontaine, Smokey D. "NAACP Reports Rebirth of Youth Activism." Newsone: Breaking News for Black America, 9 July 2009. Online location: (accessed 30 March 2013).



2013 Units