Students in Charlotte pray for wisdom, peace
Race Issues | Children who attend a downtown Christian school model grace and strength in a turbulent city
by Jamie Dean
Posted 9/23/16, 12:37 pm
CHARLOTTE, N.C.—As workers boarded up smashed windows in downtown Charlotte on Thursday afternoon, out-of-town protesters arrived to join demonstrations against the Tuesday afternoon shooting of a black man by a black police officer. During the first two nights, the initially peaceful protests devolved into violence.
Police say the shooting was justified. The family of Keith Scott, 43, dispute the police account and want the department to release videos of the confrontation. Police say it would jeopardize the investigation. Chaos has ensued.
Protesters smashed glass, destroyed property, and sporadically looted businesses. Police used tear gas to disperse crowds. The demonstrations turned deadly Wednesday night when one protester allegedly shot and killed another. On Thursday night, the protests remained mostly peaceful, but the city continues under a midnight curfew.
Meanwhile, across the street from the now-vandalized NASCAR Hall of Fame, a different scene unfolded Thursday afternoon. Dozens of elementary and middle school students sat quietly in the padded pews of First Baptist Church, asking God to help their city.
“Lord, help us to love you and love each other,” one student prayed. “God, we just want all the badness to go away,” prayed another.
The children attend Brookstone Schools—a Christian school for under-served, urban students in Charlotte. The school meets in the facilities of First Baptist Church, and serves about 155 children in grades K-8. Nearly 80 percent of the student body is African-American.
The school reported last year’s eighth grade class graduated with the academic equivalency of 10th graders, but the teachers and leaders are just as focused on spiritual growth. That’s why the students filed into First Baptist’s sanctuary, while the city still grappled with how it would confront the turmoil.
The impromptu prayer meeting included teachers and a handful of parents, volunteers, board members, and other community members. Some adults prayed simple prayers like: “Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy.” Another prayed “the gospel would go out in a bright way.”
But about 20 minutes into the hour-long prayer time, a tiny voice near the back of the room joined the adults: “Lord, help us to do good.”
The child’s prayer opened a floodgate of prayers from at least 20 other children over the next half-hour. Some prayed for the family of Keith Scott. Others prayed for the police and their families. Several prayed the protesters would be peaceful. One prayed no one else would get shot.
Other prayers carried a common theme: With turbulence, pain, and lawlessness in their city streets, several children prayed the Lord would help them continue to do their best in their own lives. Help us to be good students, some prayed. Help our teachers. Help us to love You and love others. Help us to be the light of the world.
“Lord, give us wisdom in our hearts,” one young woman prayed.
Such prayers were a “joy” for Steve Hall, Brookstone’s head of school. After the prayer meeting, Hall said teachers would help the young students process the week’s events, but he was thankful for the children’s wise prayers: “I think that speaks more than anything else the adults could have said.”
Some parents wondered if the school would open the morning after the chaotic protests, Hall said. But a flurry of calls mostly carried a different concern: Would it still be picture day? Hall said parents and students wanted to come to school, and the students carried on (in a calm downtown environment) while employees from the giant Bank of America stayed away.
The kids wore their shirts and ties and hair bows and dresses, and they showed what young leadership looks like: Humility before God and a desire to please Him in their own simple callings. They didn’t have to wait until they grow up to be leaders. Though many vexing issues remain for Charlotte, on Thursday afternoon, these children showed a perplexed city the way forward.
“Lord I hope you will lead us in the path you want us to go,” one young man stood up to pray. “And that we will never leave it.”
Jamie is national editor of WORLD Magazine. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and previously worked for the Charlotte World. Jamie has covered politics, disasters, religion, and more for WORLD. She resides in Charlotte, N.C. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.