Two Westbury Christian high school students – rising sophomore Andrew Archer and rising senior Rashard Johnson – recently participated in the ENGAGE Youth Theology Initiative hosted by the College of Bible and Ministry at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn. During the 10-day program, high school students from racially diverse backgrounds explored the contemporary call to racial justice and reconciliation, the role of the church in the U.S. Civil Rights movement, and what it means to live a life of Christian service and leadership.

The experience began with a two-day “Bus Ride to Justice,” a historical and interactive tour of significant sites and memorials of the U.S. Civil Rights movement throughout Alabama, including the Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Museum and the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. The students, counselors and faculty engaged in intergenerational conversations about past struggles and the challenging work that remains to be done in modern society. Participants also met Dr. Fred D. Gray, legendary civil rights leader and attorney, who represented Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and clients in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the 1965 Selma March and the desegregation of Alabama public schools.

Upon returning to the Lipscomb campus, the students studied theology and history with theology professors from Lipscomb and Pepperdine University – on topics including “Christian Theology, Vocation, and the Task of Racial Reconciliation;” “Conflict Transformation and Constructive Dialogue;” and “Pop Culture and Theology” – and immersed themselves in the cultural, service and entertainment opportunities available in Nashville.

Andrew Archer and Rashard Johnson

The program ultimately gave Archer, Johnson and other participants the opportunity to consider their own responses to racial injustice as they stood in the physical spaces of past events and allowed the voices and faces of history to inform and frame their actions for the future. The experience prompted the students to ask thoughtful, theological questions concerning the mistreatment of all oppressed peoples, using cross-cultural dialogue and intergenerational, non-violent engagement.

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