Jeffrey Radford of Trinity UCC, Chicago, led the 200-member NYE volunteer choir and NYE participants in music during the worship services. W. Evan Golder photo
A "White Power Music" workshop generated strong feelings. Amidst frustration that the mandatory workshop essentially repeated a plenary session, some participants wished the topic had been handled in a more positive way.
"It is better to celebrate than be negative," said one youth. Another expressed concern that the presentation had been geared to the wrong group, commenting, "It's not our problem."
Some youth wondered whether music lyrics really have much effect on listeners. "Do you have to have a sick mind first" before the lyrics affect you?" asked one. "I can't believe that music can cause violence," said another participant. But several youth agreed that music can "get you pumped," "give you power," and "feed your soul."
A workshop on Haitian sweatshops, which produce goods for Disney and many popular clothing labels, also made an impression. "I never knew," said one young woman, who feels guilty that she owns Disney insignia clothing and wonders whether she can go to Disney parks with a clear conscience.
One young man suggested workshops on various cultures. Citing the diverse group of people on the podium, he said he wished he knew more about the cultures these people represent. "I'd never met diverse people where I live," said another teen. "Meeting people like this brings us closer to God," said a third.
One participant said she was surprised by the amount of time spent "talking about gays." Many youth in the group I sat in on thought that homosexuality isn't an issue among teens. It's the adults, they said—teachers, parents and administrators—who make rules preventing same-gender couples from attending prom and resisting gay/lesbian clubs at schools.
"We don't have gays in our community," said one participant, "but if we did we'd accept them." She was gently reminded that gays probably are afraid to come out in her town. This prompted someone else to realize, "When we had ‘Stop the Hate' Day at our school, no one said anything about gays."
Issues raised at NYE caused atten-dees to reflect about life back home. First amendments rights, whether related to "white power music" or religious freedom, were appreciated and defended. One participant said she values wearing a cross at school; two young men said they relish prayer before basketball games, but defended the right of students to choose not to participate.