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Don't Build a Prison

When we talk about Urban Education everyone has an image in their head of what that looks like. We have people who won’t drive to the school once the streetlights come on because they feel so unsafe. It’s ironic that the same streetlights that have illuminated some of the most treasured moments of so many lives bring such fear to others. Assumptions really just divide us.

There’s this reality of what many call the pipeline to prison. You may have already​ heard ​the appalling reality that ​the academic achievement of ​3rd grade ​black and brown boys is ​what our systems ​use to determine the ​amount ​of​ prisons we'll need​. If you research a little more you’ll find a myriad of injustices that surround this epidemic of people profiting from the ​​incarceration of black and brown boys. We are no experts in the solutions needed to transform all the systemic injustices, but we have become pretty good friends with some 3rd grade boys who we are confident are bucking the system.

For starters, we feel like absolute gangsters because we get to lead a school where our 3rd grade boys bring teddy bears to school everyday to play with on the bus. Their bears are entrepreneurs. They start small companies, hire other bears to do the work, create schedules, have time sheets, conduct company meetings, facilitate employee evaluations, and create policies and procedures that are enforced with passion. The younger kids have started bringing their stuffed animals so that they can play too. They are leading a revolution with teddy bears. Don’t build a prison for these brown boys, build a business for them to run.

Markiel is in 3rd grade and initiated and leads a “Jesus Club” each week. He makes an agenda for each meeting, gives clear expectations​ and holds kids to them, he speaks with confidence and authority about who God is and why it matters to us. He creates space for others to proces

s and share, he gives wise advice, he leans into the beauty and mystery of prayer, and he’s got a line of kids who are begging to sit under his leadership at Jesus Club. Don’t build another prison, start dusting off a pulpit.

Currently, their voices are filling the school as they prepare to lead our school in Advent worship tomorrow. Young men zealously proclaiming “Joy to the World.” Young men with hopes and dreams and confidence that they are uniquely created by a God who is inviting them into His grand rescue plan for the world. There is hope here in this place.

It’s not all roses and rainbows. We are well acquainted with the middle finger and a myriad of cuss words and the healing powers of an ice pack after a punch lands. Change doesn’t happen overnight. It’s an investment. Change happens when there is a steady reminder of what could be. When guardrails protect our wandering hearts from slipping into what is comfortable. Change happens when there is space for Truth to be whispered consistently into our ears. Investment and steadiness and guardrails and whispering are things that exist in relationship. It is the greatest privilege I could imagine to get to be a part of equipping and empowering young men who have greatness written into their hearts.

The thing about good relationships is that they are costly. They are an investment of time and love and resources. The relationships we’re building at UCA are no different. To provide a space for Markiel to have access to a high-quality, Christ-centered education it costs $8,000 a year. To get Markiel from Kindergarten to 12th grade it will cost $100,000. We’ve already procured funds for 34% of those 80 scholars to attend UCA next year. For us to be ready to open our doors to 53 other dreamers waiting for someone to say that they are worth the investment, we need $418,786. To us that number is an invitation that we are humbled to extend to you. An invitation to make an investment. Let’s say together that we won’t build prisons with our inaction, but we will be a people who rally together to build a refuge for dreamers.

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