Think Gobally, Act Locally: Teaching Urban Youth to See the World

by Leneita Fix
“How often have I heard the phrase: “Think Globally, ACT locally!” This is a way that we are asked to think about the world around us. It helps us to take account of the issues at hand in our own backyard.

Yet, for those of us serving with youth in the urban context it can feel like the local concerns are so overwhelming that we don’t even know where to begin in helping the students that we work with to see the broader picture. Many of our youth, or their families have barely seen beyond the area in their “hood” that is within walking distance. The four corners of their world can end at the edges of public transportation. It is not uncommon to find violence, rage, neglect, hurt, poverty, hunger, no running water, orphaned children, hopelessness and despair on the streets where our youth live. At best the very nature of being between the ages of 12 and 17 is to be self-focused and unable to see beyond the end of our nose.

Our world is their world. The weight of helping our own seems to be a load we could never bear. So, when the world wakes up on January 12, 2010 to find a tiny nation off the coast of America literally shaken to it core we don’t know how to respond. As the church, the body of believers, we know that we are compelled to help in some small way. The same God, who sees the hurt on our corner, weeps with the people of a nation covered in dust and rubble. As the news unfolded in Haiti, each of us broke down as we watched the horror of this broken island nation. For many of us this was very close to home.

These are the moments when we feel the deep urgency to teach our youth to take action. Our hearts are crushed and so theirs must be too. All of a sudden it hits us that if we are to see these students truly as the “next generation of leaders” it is too small to allow them to be stuck in their tiny world. Watching the disaster we are moved to do something. As our lives are intertwined with our youth it is only natural that, we want them to do something also. For while today the tragedy is in Haiti, it was just yesterday that it was literally in our own back yard of New Orleans in the form of a hurricane. We live in a fallen world, and tomorrow another corner of civilization might fall due to manmade or natural disaster. Then we are reminded that every day around the world there is hunger and disease and people fighting to survive. It is our responsibility, I believe, as the shepherds of these next generation leaders, to help them to see the larger whole. This world needs the light of Christ and the youth of the city are called to be the light on the hill.

Looking at the litter in our own front yard and the dust settling half a world away, the question becomes then, “How do I care about it all? How can I help my youth care about the world around them?”

The answer comes in the form of a word a couple of my friends coined: “Glocal.” In my definition of this word it means that we do not ignore one for the other. We recognize the deep need of the youth of the city, while helping them to see beyond themselves and their own needs. We can engage globally from our own city block.

For a variety of reasons urban youth overall tend to live in “survival “ mode. This makes them stuck not only in local thinking, but unable to even see or dream about their own lives. They don’t know how to think about the world around them, because they don’t always believe that it matters that they care.

We begin by admitting that we must address the issue on a “glocal” level. It counts that they see the great needs of the world. We have an attitude of moving our youth from “survive” to “thrive.” This means that, before we can truly move our youth to action, we must show them that their contribution is not only important but also vital.

Next week, we will talk about how to help our youth to move out of this place of survival so that they can truly meet the needs of the world.

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