By Maina Mwaura
One thing journalists and ministers have in common is that we’re called not to make the story about us, which makes what I’m writing difficult.
I have the privilege of wearing both hats. There is a specific subject matter that needs to be shared when I wear my journalist hat, and there is a specific story of a Savior that needs to be shared when I wear my minister hat.
On the night of May 29, 2020, I—a black man—decided to leave my house in Kennesaw, Georgia, and venture into the heart of Atlanta, where riots were occurring.
I wanted to learn why people, mainly members of Generation Z, decided to riot and loot after what began as a peaceful protest about George Floyd’s death and the positions and perceptions of law enforcement.
I was compelled to take on the assignment to know how to better understand and connect with a hurting generation.
My experience that evening helped me uncover six distinct characteristics of this younger generation as it relates to racial justice.
It also taught me some ways the church should understand them to better engage with them.
1. They’re speaking on behalf of previous generations.
The book of Genesis ends on a high note for God’s people. Yet when we turn the page to the book of Exodus, it is clear that things have changed. Exodus 1:8 makes it known that a new generation knew nothing of Joseph and the God he served.
Generational shift doesn’t always bring along the knowledge of past generations, nor the understanding of a new generation.
I in no way condone violence, but we have to realize that in order to minister to this generation, we have to acknowledge and empathize with their current and generational hurts.
We witnessed another life being brutally taken on social media and national TV. That’s a lot to take in for a lot of people, and when a group of people is wounded, they may act out in hurtful ways. We must give them room to react.
2. They want to be heard.
When I left my house late that Friday night with my friend and security guard, I asked the Lord to allow me to hear what people were saying.
I’ve never been a part of a riot before. The screaming, yelling, gunfire, and the sirens are now forever etched in my mind.
When I asked why they were doing what they were doing, for many, it was to be heard. Although the protest had been about the brutal killing of George Floyd, it was also an outcry against racial injustices everywhere.
We must listen first—and listen a lot.
3. They’re angry—oftentimes, righteously.
You don’t go from a peaceful protest to a full-blown riot without present anger. New mental health concerns, suicides, unknown futures, and myriad voices telling them what to believe is seemingly awakening an angry generation.
When I asked a young woman why she was acting out as she was, she yelled back, “I’m just angry.” I could see it in her eyes and demeanor.
As politics bleeds into our calling as believers, our posture on positions can cause the best of us to be frustrated or lash out; peace bridges barriers and communication gaps. We must remain calm.
4. They’re not only men.
As the father of a 7-year-old girl, one of the first things I noticed was the number of young women of all racial hues who were a part of the rioting.
To be clear, I’m not singling out women, but I was struck that rioting was not merely a male-driven activity.
Seeing the number of young women was jarring and compels me to dig deeper as a father and to keep asking questions in this area of my life.
When I asked one of the young women why she was rioting, it was as if she was saying, “If men can do it, why can’t I?” We must realize our presuppositions may be wrong.
5. Not enough has changed.
As the famous saying goes, “History always repeats itself.” Those words may be very true when it comes to how 2020 is being played out.
Everything in 1968 seemed to be falling apart in our country—from watching the death of Martin Luther King Jr., to the rioting and looting that happened in almost every American city.
Although the year has changed, there are several characteristics that are similar and worth taking note. We must remember to look in our mirror and not just at them.
6. They want guidance.
One of the things that stood out to me throughout the riot was the number of people who listened to what I had to say.
Several times I asked people who were looting to put things back and to go home, and they listened. We may have a generation of people who want to be heard by and spoken into from mature people.
We must participate. In the books of Acts 15, Jesus hadn’t been gone long from the scene before the people started arguing about race and culture.
I love how the chapter makes it clear that God had given them the authority to lead and walk through the mess.
We’ve been called as believers to walk through the mess and boldly use His power to guide us in the days ahead of us.
MAINA MWAURA is a freelance journalist and minister who lives in the Atlanta area with his wife, Tiffiney, and daughter Zyan.