Ralph Emerson goes dancing every Sunday.
The 21-year-old Florida A&M University student raises his hands and stomps his feet, jolted by an energy that possesses his entire being.
A pulsating bass line or a catchy radio chorus doesn’t move him. For him, there is only one thing that inspires him to be this way. On Sundays, Emerson dances when the spirit of God overwhelms him, and he hollers to give thanks to his Lord and Savior.
The business administration student from Fort Worth, Texas has memories of the church as far back as he can remember. As a child, Emerson sat in the rumbling pews of Rising Star Baptist Church captivated by the sermons of his father, Ralph W. Emerson Jr., who has served as pastor for 14 years. Growing up as the son of a pastor, he has always felt the constant pressure of being called upon “to walk a specific path.”
“As a Christian, when we do certain inappropriate things we feel as though there is something higher to answer to,” Emerson said.
Although he was several hundred miles away, the same expectations that accompanied him in Texas seemed to follow him to Tallahassee. As a new student in a strange city, Emerson turned to his faith in God for strength and stability.
“My faith has helped me discern and decide what avenues to take while here,” he said.
Despite being constantly examined, Emerson never shunned his faith of God, but at 19, he further embraced it by beginning his own theological studies. For the past three years, he has ministered to young and old alike, spreading his God’s teachings at Community of Faith Church. For Emerson, a stronger initial foundation in the church helped to benefit him throughout his life. For those young men who have not received consistent spiritual guidance, their journey toward faith is often much different.
Pastor Lois Carrington, minister at Community of Faith Church, said many young men find trouble being far away from home and having a new sense of total freedom.
A number of local churches have set up collegiate ministries in order to reach out to students and help to address their issues.
“Once they begin to grow in their faith, it seems that they cope better with the problems in their lives,” Carrington said.
The negative stigmas among young people surrounding young men active in the church have caused many to feel as though religious faith is unpopular. With there being a glaring absence of young black males joining and participating in church and religion, the benefit of faith is often lost or ignored.
“I think that faith requires you to come out of yourself, and many young men are more focused on personal gain,” said Titus Jackson, a construction engineering student from Atlanta.
For many young black men, their surroundings assist in the continual promotion of delinquency and negativity. The ideals of the black church, that was once a staple in communities, have been diminished in part by increasingly unreceptive youth.
“For me, religion allows you to accentuate the positives in any situation,” Jackson, 20, said.
In the past, the presence of strong male figures in the church has helped to build the foundation of many congregations and churches. Outreach programs, geared toward welcoming young men to the church, have been implemented nationwide, and pastors continue to stress the need for faith-based stability in men.
“I’ve found that once [young black men] get involved in the church they become some of the greatest servants you would want to see,” Carrington said.
Deacon Michael Bonner of the 19th Street Baptist Church in Washington, DC has worked with young men in the DC area for many years and continues to mentor young men in his ministries. Working in the Rites of Passage Program at 19th Street, Bonner has seen the benefit that faith can have in helping young men as they grow and face their everyday problems.
Bonner said all teaching that is giving through schooling is not enough for youth, and a spiritual foundation for living is needed in order to find true peace and confidence in a positive future.
“Life is understood looking backwards, but you have to live it looking forward,” Bonner said.
Contact Steven Jumper at firstname.lastname@example.org.