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Family matters: Detroit or bust

Detroit or Bust by Sue Gamelin

Nine teenagers and two young adults from our congregation are getting ready to pile into our well-worn, invariably smelly church van. We scrounged up suitcases for those who didn’t have them, and bought them cheap TracFones to make sure that we could find them if they got lost in the huge crowds awaiting them. They’ll make their half-excited, half-scared way north 650 miles to Detroit. It will take 12 or more hours of driving, but they’re relieved we didn’t have enough money for airplane tickets. “Too scary,” they said in unison. None of the teens have ever flown.

Where are they headed? The national youth gathering, a.k.a. “Rise Up!” When they pull into Detroit, they’ll move into a dorm at Wayne State University, where the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event (MYLE) will be held. They’ll join other African American teens at MYLE, as well as teens from the Asian American, Latino, Native American, Arab American and Alaskan Native communities—500 people altogether. They look forward to not being a minority at an ELCA event! Four days later they’ll pour onto Ford Field in downtown Detroit, joining a river of 35,000 wiggly and giggly, singing and laughing Lutheran teens from all over. Minority again.

It has taken a lot of determination for our group to go to Detroit. You see, the kids in our congregation are from families living near or below the poverty line. Our congregation, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, is planted firmly in the Warnersville community of Greensboro, N.C., an area with a memorable history. The land was purchased by Quakers from Pennsylvania after the Civil War and sold to freed slaves for reasonable prices. Those families built their homes, their school and their stores on this land. They named this community after the friend who headed up the project. Warnersville was torn down and rebuilt during the War on Poverty in the 1960s and 1970s, and that’s when an ELCA predecessor, the Lutheran Church in America, established our congregation.

Today the average family income for Warnersville residents is a little less than $21,000. Families of four in the United States are considered to be below the poverty line if they have less than $24,250 annual income. Our area is a food desert. Residents are more than a mile from a full-service grocery store. It’s hard to maintain a car on the income of many families around us. Yes, it’s possible to walk two miles to the closest grocery store in our area. But have you ever walked home the same two miles carrying loaded grocery bags? Food insecurity is a reality; 80 percent of the families in North Carolina who are on food assistance don’t know where their next meal will come from. One in four children in our city is food insecure.

The Rev. Sue Gamelin is a retired ELCA pastor who washes the feet of homeless folks and low income children and youth in North Carolina. She and her husband, Tim, have four grown children and their spouses and 11 grandchildren.

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