Gun Violence, Stranger Things and the Unseen Battle Our Children Face

It was 2017 and Netflix had come out with this series that was EVERYWHERE and, it was ๐Ÿ”ฅ. It was making headlines and the buzz was intense. I’d recently started working at an ultra-hipster ad agency based in Brooklyn and coworkers on my company’s internal sites were even talking about the show. The premise seemed simple: A group of middle schoolers help a young girl with powers and they work together to fight supernatural creatures and bad guys. The music channeled the 80s vibe with laser-point accuracy and somehow captured an era many folks fondly remember or at least wish they could. Since I was a kid back then, that time felt lighter, more innocent. Back then, I was unaware of most of the strife that was happening in the U.S. and the world. The music, movies and fashion defined how I viewed that time in the world. Movies like The Goonies, E.T., The Lost Boys and Firestarter were thrilling but also felt so PG and fun. Stranger Things successfully bottled that style of filmmaking with the nuance and care a favorite era receives after it’s had to time to marinate.

Though the 80s had more than its fair share of struggle and contention, it’s still viewed to a certain degree as cheesy, over the top but beloved. The show’s fourth season premiered just a few days after the school shooting in Uvalde, TX, and it prompted Netflix to place a warning before the start of the show: โ€œWe filmed this season of Stranger Things a year ago. But given the recent tragic shooting at a school in Texas, viewers may find the opening scene of episode one distressing. We are deeply saddened by this unspeakable violence, and our hearts go out to every family mourning a loved one.โ€

It certainly made sense to add the caution. The “kids” we’d all been rooting for since 2016 were now high schoolers and though they thought they’d had a reprieve from all the madness, new battles were emerging. Not only teenage angst, cliques and peer pressure to contend with, the specter of past battles started to invade again. As I dug into the latest season, after nearly a three-year wait, this show hit in a totally different way. I witnessed parents, sometimes clueless, sometimes apathetic or just anxious. I saw different factions of the government working against or for the children fighting to save their town and ultimately the world. Law enforcement was often inept and chasing wrong and inaccurate leads because they were so unaware and unwilling to see what was really happening. In many ways, all the young characters are fending for themselves, circumventing systems and dealing with a world that is under attack by unseen and seen forces. And it hit me — this is exactly what the children of America have been facing for far too many years. When the Columbine shooting happened in 1999, it shook the nation. It was unbelievable and the level of detail and strategic planning to carry out the scope of the act was staggering. And ever since that time, these shootings have become increasingly commonplace. Active shooter drills and lockdowns are almost the norm for schoolkids. Searingly, the loss of life, the suffering for families left behind and the PTSD that remains for those who survive is incalculable.

When I came up, school was considered almost hallowed ground, a haven for children from the violence skewering communities in America. There was the occasional fight or after-school stick-up for the latest Nikes but those incidents weren’t considered as commonplace. When it did start getting more serious in areas like my hometown of Detroit, every morning many urban school kids had to go through metal detectors in hopes of catching someone carrying a weapon on school grounds. But growing up as a teen in the late 80s and early 90s, I didn’t even consider that I wouldn’t be safe in class. My focus was to get educated, have a little fun and maybe meet a new friend.

I wonder why so many people seem to think it’s okay not to have real effective measures in place to protect our most vulnerable citizens? Since Uvalde, there’s been an understandable outcry about sensible gun laws. But consequently, there’s been very small progress in making common-sense measures to at least make sure guns aren’t handed out like it’s a 2-for-1 sale at Walmart. While I’m at it, let’s just add this calculus equation right here: g (y) = (yโˆ’4) (2y + y2). This math makes just as much sense to this English major why we here in the United States need assault rifles like we’re soldiers in Ukraine.

The mainstream media and many in the general public are unable to recognize the most disturbing part of this frightening issue: our children are under a new spiritual attack. The increased violence in our schools is not just by happenstance. It is a strategic act of aggression. It’s not just because of the proliferation of guns and the increased access many have, but the enemy doesn’t want our children to thrive and grow. The time he has grows shorter and shorter in the earth and his plan has always been to “steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10). What better asset to attack? It is the most precious one on the planet and the only creation that has been made in God’s likeness and image (Genesis 1:27). In the most “connected” society in human history, it is sadly one of the most lonely and toxic environments modern man has faced. Our children are bathing in a sea of superficial rants, greed, extreme polarity and false happiness parading as glamour and success. Many children are suffering in silence, teetering on the brink of madness and the children who remain are left have varied amounts of collateral damage.

As the back-t0-school season is upon us, many parents are understandably filled with deep concerns about their children returning to classrooms. But there are answers. It’s not wrapped in positive thoughts and vain ramblings. It’s not the latest talking head on the news or even world leaders. It’s not every teacher, principal and class custodian having a CPL. Kids wearing bulletproof backpacks is certainly not the answer. We do need more gun restrictions. We do need more accountability from those who’ve failed to protect our children. Sadly, public prayer left schools many years ago. But those with kids in school: encourage them to pray during the school day. Because we do need prayer. We do need fasting. There is HOPE. The Lord brings peace where there is chaos and clarity where there is confusion. As we’ve floated farther and farther away from Him, our world has grown dimmer and dimmer. But He does want us to work while we still have light, while it’s still day to bring solutions to a dying world. We can be outraged as Jesus was at leaders of the day and turn over the tables for our troubling times. During the civil rights era, God used Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers, Dorothy Height and so many others to make tangible change to a system that was built on overtly oppressing and committing acts of violence toward people of color. Real-life solutions are available if we are tuned in to not just the latest news stories but to what the Spirit of God has to say and how we may bless and protect the future generations that are counting on us today.

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8

“Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. โ€œIt is written,โ€ he said to them, โ€œโ€™My house will be called a house of prayer,โ€™ but you are making it โ€˜a den of robbers.โ€™โ€ Matthew 21:12-13

 Our fight is not against people on earth. We are fighting against the rulers and authorities and the powers of this worldโ€™s darkness. We are fighting against the spiritual powers of evil in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12

โ€œOur prayer and Godโ€™s mercy are like two buckets in a well; as one ascends the other descends.โ€ Bishop Arthur Hopkins

Why Jon Batiste Is the Best Response to the Angry Black Man Narrative Right Now

Okay y’all. I’m not going to rehash the Oscar fiasco. We know what it is. We’re all over it already, no matter what you think about it. But last Sunday’s Grammy Awards was the feel-good story we can all get behind. I got familiar with Jon Batiste probably about 2 years ago. I caught an episode of the The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and he was the smiling “piano guy” serving as the bandleader/music director since 2015. Last year, I saw an interview of him on The Daily Show and I got a better sense of some of his range, catching a clip of his music video for Freedom and I was impressed. This year, I decided to watch The Grammys, not really expecting too much. Boy was I surprised. I enjoyed a number of performances and Batiste was a main highlight. It was exuberantly ecstatic, electric and had such a sense of lightness and joy that radiated off the screen, featuring vibrantly dressed dancers and singers, channeling multiple decades all at one time. He gave colorful Chuck Berry-Liberace hybrid vibes with a gospel thread. I also saw style influences from the greats like Little Richard, James Brown and Michael Jackson. And if you’ve ever watched The Wiz and Black Panther, the similarities in wardrobe were undeniable. By the end of the night, he took home 5 Grammys, including Album of the Year. His speech was humble, insightful and gracious: “I believe this to my core, there is no best musician, best artist, best dancer, best actor,” he said. “The creative arts are subjective and they reach people at a point in their lives when they need it most. It’s like a song or an album is made and it’s almost like it has a radar to find the person when they need it the most. I’d like to thank God. I just put my head down and I work on the craft every day. I love music, I’ve been playing since I was a little boy. It’s more than entertainment for me, it’s a spiritual practice…”

A couple days later, I looked him up and read up on this accomplished musician. He comes from a gifted and prestigious musical dynasty hailing from the culturally rich New Orleans area. Batiste has a Bachelor and Master of Music in jazz music from Juilliard. As I’ve feasted on his music the past few days, I’ve heard the enormous range of talent. His hit Freedom may be what he’s best known for because of its viral success, but his music and voice vibrates anywhere between classic jazz, New Orleans brass-band style, R&B, soul, funk, blues, hip-hop and gospel. His self-professed Christian faith simmers and often bubbles up from under his music and the response from his audiences are visceral and joyful.

Album cover created by Karla Cordova

During my research, I found an interview he’d done with CBS Sunday Morning this past February and his story became even more profound. At the age of 35, he is living a life that seemingly is hitting all the right notes. But he and his wife are walking through a very challenging time with tremendous grace and courage and it hit me — this is the award moment we should all be talking about. How do we respond in moments of deep pain? What do we radiate in the most visible moments of our lives? Do we seek moments of joy during the struggle?

And what’s our focus when we witness a big-stage moment go sideways? Do we continually fixate on the outliers? Do we dwell on those that lash out in anger and disappoint us, leaving us feeling betrayed and deceived? It’s understandable. Our brains are wired to pay attention to the atypical, the aberrations that confound us. One of my favorite doctors, neuroscientist Dr. Caroline Leaf, explains this fascination our minds have for the unusual. But can we take more moments to breathe in the incredible God-given talent that He places in the earth to reflect the best in us? Sunday’s Grammy performance was just a taste of his affect on the audience. An obvious prodigy, he’s already made 13 albums in his mid 30s. Is it possible that our fixation on the worst in us is keeping us from seeing what’s been right in front of our faces for so long? Just like the baddest kid in the class gets all the attention but the student who plugs diligently away and is at the top of his class is sometimes given a shoulder shrug because he/she is expected to do well.

So I submit to you an alternative view in these rapidly changing times. Allow me to divert your attention away for a worthwhile moment that I hope sticks with you when you want to get in your feelings about the current cultural climate. It’s hard to deal with folks who want to blankly label and cancel black and brown folks in the limelight when they behave badly. It’s frustrating when someone steps out of line. Those of us of color often carry a mantle of a whole race on our back, but I push back on the narrative that we’re the “good ones” when we’re perceived to be upright, productive and “civilized” people that don’t fulfill the negative stereotypes played out on TV, movies or the evening news. We’re not exceptions to the rule. We’re humans, made in the image of God, experiencing the same hurts, traumas, dreams, joys and victories as anyone else breathing on this earth, as individual as a fingerprint. We are ironically like Batiste’s most well-known genre: jazz. We are fluid, nuanced, varied, unpredictable, flawed, open to interpretation and controversy, sometimes confounding and breathtakingly beautiful all at the same time. ๐ŸคŽ๐Ÿ™๐Ÿพ๐Ÿ’™ — THB

To watch Batiste’s dynamic Grammy performance, click here:

To watch the Jon Batiste CBS Sunday morning interview, click here