Written by Barb Powell
Under a blazing afternoon sun on Purdue University’s Memorial Mall Thursday, James Allen, a National Youth Event (NYE) chaperone from Trinity UCC in Chicago, rolled a piece of poster board into a megaphone and threw himself into the call and response of protest.
"Gangbangers in our 'hood!'" he shouted.
About 50 youth delegates replied, "That's the stuff we don’t like!"
"No food in the fridge!" Allen yelled, throwing more body language into his call.
"Join the Justice Network," the teens responded, matching Allen’s passion with their own energy.
The youth delegates, including a handful from the EUK in Germany, were led by Edie Rasell of the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries who had conducted an NYE workshop on social justice. "We wanted to show the kids justice and peace in action and to issue a call to churches to do justice and to try to change lawmakers' minds," said Rasell.
Allen's baritone, getting hoarser and throatier by the minute, rolled on:
"Kids getting pregnant . . . Wall Street getting rich . . . mountaintop removal . . . poor school systems . . . kids with no water!"
Elizabeth Sierra and Elizabeth Cardona of First Congregational UCC in Chicago shook their signs and yelled to match Allen's intensity. Had they ever done anything like this before? "No, but we will definitely do it again, especially if there's a lot of us. When there's a lot of us, people have to run into at least one of us."
David Benitez, 14, also of First Congregational, was an enthusiastic convert. "This is really cool," he said. "We can change minds. Kids are more open-minded and believe things can change."
He was holding up a sign featuring the Bible verses Amos 5:24: "Let justice roll down like water, and righteousness like an everflowing stream."
Kenny Stephens of Trinity UCC in Chicago had produced a dramatic red and white poster with a clenched fist and the words "Take a Stand!"
"I've never joined a protest before but I draw all the time. I love to draw. This didn't take any time at all," Stephens said.
Elizabeth Marsden and Duncan Tharpe of the UCC's New Hampshire Conference held their signs aloft and joined the chants in the middle of the protest line. Would they ever do this again? "I don’t know," Marsden said. "It feels different to be on this side of the sign."
Elias Lingham and Joram Ulmke of the German EUK were attending NYE as the guests of Trinity UCC in Chicago. They had spent several days seeing the sights in Chicago before heading to Purdue, and they were clearly rejoicing in the moment. "This whole event is great, just great!" they exclaimed.