The Lessons of Derrion Albert’s Death

Two years after the brutal beating death of a 16-year-old Chicago honors student shocked the nation, the senseless violence continues. But God’s Word offers hope for peace.
Demanding More from Ourselves for urban faith

TOO YOUNG: On Sept. 24, 2009, Derrion Albert became the innocent victim of mob violence as he walked home from school.

Two years ago, on Sept. 24, 2009, a mob of teenagers attacked and killed a young man outside a Christian community center on the south side of Chicago.

Derrion Albert, 16, had been an honors student at Fenger High School before his death. He died outside the Agape Community Center in Roseland, seemingly caught in the middle of a gang fight that had nothing to do with him.

Two years after Derrion Albert’s death, the youth violence epidemic continues in many inner cities. On Monday, Sept. 12, a family friend of Derrion Albert was shot and killed on the south side of Chicago. Alexander McDonald, 23, was the father of 2-year-old Jaylen. He was shot in the head on his way back from a funeral, cutting short his plans to graduate from college and marry his fiancée, according to ABC News.

The next day, 14-year-old Brian DeLeon was brutally beaten into a coma in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago. His horrified girlfriend Dayana Vazquez found him bleeding on the sidewalk. She told the Chicago Tribune, “He didn’t talk to gangbangers. All he did was play soccer. He wanted to be a professional soccer player.”

And yet these stories are only recent examples of the daily gang violence in America’s inner cities, with traumatic repercussions for urban youth.

Ministering amidst gang violence

The Agape Community Center, part of Campus Crusade for Christ’s Here’s Life Inner City Chicago, has been serving the Roseland community for more than 30 years. Their staff came to Albert’s aid after the beating.

Milton Massie, director of Here’s Life Inner City Chicago, declined an interview, explaining that his staff wanted to put the tragedy behind them and move forward.

Massie wrote in an e-mail:

We have sought and have experienced some level of healing. The last two years have been very difficult and painful as you might imagine. I am not really interested in talking more about this tragic and sadly “normal” state of violence in our community.

We still believe God and HIS Gospel is THE ANSWER. We must remain faithful, prayerful, and willing to endure the “hardships” that come with ministry in the “urban context”. His message is not ineffective. We as many in ministry in the U.S. (urban, rural, and suburban) are dealing with the “waxing cold” of “mankind’s heart.”

It is our responsibility to “keep our face to the plow.” His message of love and discipleship found in the “Great Commandment” and the “Great Commission” (Matthew 22:38-40; 28:18-20) [is] still vital, powerful, relevant, and effective (Romans 1:16)! That is how we address plight of our neighborhood and those are my comments.

UrbanFaith has added links to biblical references.

In an interview with UrbanFaith editor Edward Gilbreath in 2009, Milton Massie said youth in the neighborhood were angry and afraid — angry because parents weren’t taking responsibility for their kids, and afraid that they could be the next victims caught in gang crossfire while going to and from school.

“That’s a lot to ask from a child whose primary focus should be just trying to learn, and enjoying being a kid,” Massie said.

Turning to Scripture

Faced with the youth violence epidemic, UrbanFaith turns to the Book of Isaiah for glimpses of peace and redemption during turmoil.

Isaiah 1:15-17: “Your hands are full of blood! Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice.”

Isaiah 2:4: “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”

Isaiah 58:9-10: “‘If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”

Here’s Life Inner City Chicago has prayer requests on their website.

How can urban ministries combat gang violence and help youth living in unsafe neighborhoods? What Scripture do you turn to for hope and strength?

About the author, Catherine Newhouse

Catherine Newhouse is an UrbanFaith blogger from the Chicago area who attends the University of Missouri, where she is majoring in journalism, religious studies and international studies. She has written for Christianity Today, the Columbia Missourian and The Chicago Reporter, a newsmagazine that investigates race and poverty in the city. She blogs at ponderingpeace.tumblr.com and can be contacted via Twitter and email.