Black Youth, Intergenerational Relations and Ageism

“The steady decline in both attendance and membership in the Blackchurch is also a clear indication of the deterioration in socialresponsibility as well as values among the young generation.Statistics from the National Opinion Research Centre at theUniversity of Chicago indicate that between 1995 and 2000 alone,there has been a 5.6 per cent drop in church attendance among theblack youth aged between 18 and 35 years.”1

This quotation from Bakari Kitwana’s book The Hip Hop Generationserve to prove the fact that the black youth generation is losinggrip of the moral values once embodied in the black church and are inturn shifting their worship to the Hip Hop music. The text outlinesthe loss of touch on the traditional value that placed a premium onthe communal cultural uplift.2The Hip Hop generation of black youth has gone against this valuethat was advocated by the older Civil Rights generation and they nowregard personal success in terms of finance over communal financialsuccess.

The values have been eroded among the black youth to the extent thatthe black youths consider serving prison sentence some time in theirlives as something normal, more like a rite of passage. The attitudesand values have been shaped by public policy. Public policy hascriminalized the black youth with regard to dressing style, violence,drugs and education.3This has made them to consider themselves targets of incarceration.The year between 1995 and 2000 also saw black women and girls beingincarcerated at an increasing rate. Again, the media has also paintedthe black youth as people who are without soul. The segregationtendencies have demeaned the black youth who now seems to haveaccepted this position and are drifting away from traditional valuesto the extent of disregarding church doctrines that were onceenshrined in their livelihoods.

Pop culture and quality of life issues have also been at theepicenter of moral value erosion among the black youth. Globalizationhas created machinery that nourishes the desire and need for rapmusic. Global companies such as Viacom have even made Hip Hop acommodity.4Fashion and dressing styles have been affected by the rap industry.The text asserts that lack of church involvement in the Hip Hopgeneration is what has allowed their values to be shaped by what thesociety sees out of them. The demonization by the church has alsocontributed to drop out of black youths in Black churches.

“Despite the differences that exist between the twenty-firstcentury Hip Hop generation and that in the early 1970s that was inits infant stage, these generations have consistently been focused onthe same issues that the Black church has fought for years equality,liberation and survival. Their modus operandi is what is differentbut they remain fixated on the same outcome in their advocacy. Thisis what makes the phenomenon of division and disengagement betweenthe Blacks church such a disturbing issue.”5

This quote has a meaning that the Hip Hop generation and the Blackchurch have been fighting for the same reasons. Even though theirapproaches have differed, they have desired similar outcomes out oftheir advocacies. The aforementioned text seeks to understand whythere should be disengagements and divisions between the two groups.According to the text, there should be no misunderstanding betweenthe church and the Hip Hop generation because their interests aresimilar but clearly, this is not the case.

The reason for the rift is that, there exists the problem ofmisinformation between the young and older generations. The oldergeneration is said not to have taken any steps to ensure that theirchildren are prepared adequately for what they are going to inheritin the world stage. This has made the two groups to conflict in themethods they want to use to achieve the same thing. The Hip Hopgeneration has been left with the feeling that they are not preparedto fight in the same manner that their forefathers fought.6The rift is also explained in terms of demonization. The eldersdemonize black girls, viewing them in the light of promiscuity. Blackboys are also demonized as violent, drug dealers and having dirtymouths. The language, music, dressing styles, videos as well as thebehavior of black youths are seen not only as demonic but alsodistasteful.

It is demonization by preachers and entertainers such as Bill Cosbywhich has contributed to the division and growing disengagementbetween elders and youths. The black youth, for the fear of shamethat comes with demonization resorts to the avoidance tactics toevade coming in contact with the elders. As a result, they drop outof communal places such as the church. Demonization has also made theblack youth to disrespect their elders. Disrespect is evident inactions such as clicking, talking back and neck swerving.

The adults have come to find the culture the black youth is inpractice of to be repugnant and have made it very clear that theblack youth should not be heard nor seen. In turn, this has led tomutual respect among the youths and adults. Mutual respect furtherfuels disengagement among the groups. Events such as family reunionsbecome subjects of scorn among youths.7

“Also, we must desist from tendencies of viewing the ideal familycomprised of children, husband and children as the model of choice indescribing the family life of blacks. While appreciating this ideal,we should also find ways of exploiting other models of family life.All family levels must be improved in all black people ministries….In the black church, all families must find hope, improvement andempowerment.”8

The text shuns examining the family in the mirror of the traditionaldefinition. This is seen as retrogressive and will only serve topolarize the larger black community at familial levels. As a resultof such a practice in the African community, they exist as socialunits that are dysfunctional. In ministry activities, this should bediscouraged. Rather, the black family should mirror positive valuesin the community such as love, compassion and trust.9These values should be shared in the black community among all andsundry. Where there are shared values, there is a family. Such kindof family is what will nurture youths and prepare them for the lifethat is ahead of them.

Through social evolution, black families should orient themselvestowards households that respect one another and support mutualexistence. Black theologians should seek to develop and strengthenblack families through works such as those of George and YvonneAbatso who are experts in the affairs of black families.10Only black families that had always found a reason to keep togetherare the only ones that survived well beyond the institution ofslavery. As such, encouraging integration in the black families is arole that the church should become actively involved in.

“During the period of slavery, Americans who had slave ancestralorigins had to rely on the elders for information to continue theircultures since there were no written records… The elders wereresponsible for traditional continuity. Grey hair and wrinkles werevalued in the community as they were a sign of wisdom and knowledge.The elders were given their own portion of respect and worth. Theyneeded not feel stigmatized and aged.”11

The quote connotes the level of knowledge that the elderly people inthe society harbors. The youths should not be disengaged from theolder adults because traditional continuity will be lost from thecommunity. This group of individuals should also be treated withrespect. Grey hair and wrinkles ought to be valued because from themoozes wisdom and knowledge. The youth should drink from this well ofknowledge instead of trying to create divisions with the olderadults.

This also means that the focus of the church should not only be toconstruct theologies at family and childhood levels but also at theadult level. While attending to the dynamics that exist at thecultural level, those that exist at the social level should not beoverlooked in a community that is more inclined to the worship ofyouth exploits than attainment of success in the community as asingle family unit. The elderly theology will serve to give the youtha sense of what is morally right or wrong.

“Womanist worship tends to occur when the African-American womenare allowed to participate in leadership and evaluation of churchscriptures. The experiences, thoughts, survival and emancipation ofwomen will impart serious lessons in the revision of scriptures. Theworship of women is synonymous with the worship of family since itcomprises also the different experiences of both children and men ofblack origin.”12

The text implies that the worship of women in a society is inclusiveat the gender level. For this reason, woman worship should not beseen as being homophobic. The stories of black people along withtheir experience with God can be used to give credence to the ideasof African-Americans. These ideas will have their foundation anchoredin the biblical scriptures. The community will be solely responsiblefor what parts of the stories to include and which parts to exclude.

“Rituals are needed in the black churches and it is important toremember specific details of the activities that were led by men andwomen in the fight for civil rights. These men and women believedthat God was fighting alongside them in their struggle. The ritualshould be reinforced in the minds of children in their early stagesof development and is seriously needed in the church. This ritualwill inculcate a sense of history and faith in the story of anAfrican-American child.”13

By this, Williams implies that rituals are ideal in the blackchurches. Woman worship is one of the important rituals that theauthor want included. This ritual will serve to ensure that there isgender inclusivity. The rituals that Williams talks about include therole women have played in the struggle against sexist oppressions andalso how God played a key role in helping them maintain theirself-esteem even when they were being raped by the white man.14There is a distinct connection between faith and resistance. Thisshould be exploited in the efforts towards social transformation.

“The church and other leaders are not only expected to attend tothe needs of our youth…. Men and women of black origin form a largepart of familial units. This realization is a subject of attack. Theattack has been directed to the culture of poverty theory. In thistheory, it is believed that poor black families pass on weaknessesfrom one generation to the next. This assertion should not bedisputed and is not an area that pastors should dwell on. Rather theyshould focus on those traditions that will enable black people toflourish.”15

The text has a meaning that the focus of the black church should bemore on providing the black youth with direction by helping theappreciate traditions that will save their lives than on listeningand responding to their issues. This practice should be made a partof the sermon in black churches. The author conjures that black youthshould not be seen as vessels that are vacant and waiting to be madefull by the knowledge and wisdom of the black church.16Instead, the black youths are individuals that if given a chance cancontribute so much to the black church. What is needed is anenvironment that will allow these two groups to share in what theyknow and ascribe to. If this is done, the society will experiencejust how much the black youth can offer to the church.


Andrews, Dale P. Practical Theology for Black Churches.Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002.

  1. 1Andrews, Dale P, “Bridging Civil Rights and Hip Hop Generations,” In Practical Theology for Black Churches, ed. Evelyn Parker (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 22

  1. Ibid., 23

  2. Ibid., 23



  1. 4Andrews, Bridging Civil Rights and Hip Hop Generations, 23

  2. Ibid., 24


  1. 6Andrews, Bridging Civil Rights and Hip Hop Generations, 25

  1. 7Andrews, Bridging Civil Rights and Hip Hop Generations, 26

  2. Andrews, Dale P, “Rejoining Black Youth, Families, and Our Elders,” In Practical Theology for Black Churches, ed. James Evans Jr. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 22

  3. Andrews, Rejoining Black Youth, Families, and Our Elders, 40



  1. 10Andrews, Rejoining Black Youth, Families, and Our Elders, 42

  1. 11Ibid., 42

  1. 12 Andrews, Rituals of Resistance to Strengthen Integrational Relations, 52

  1. 13Andrews, Rituals of Resistance to Strengthen Integrational Relations, 52

  1. 14Ibid., 53

  1. 15Ibid., 50

  1. 16Andrews, Rituals of Resistance to Strengthen Integrational Relations, 50