hop is the soundtrack of urban street life. Nightclubs that play the music can
be a magnet for trouble. But a
Christian social service group is convinced it can co-opt hip hop and keep
at-risk kids on the right path. Tom Banse reports from Tacoma, Washington.
is about making compromises. It's a struggle that dates to Biblical times. As
the apostle Paul wrote in a letter to the Corinthians, "I have become all
things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some."
Today, that might explain why good Christians can end up operating a
nightclub where teens dress in saggy pants and short skirts. The young people dance in sexually
provocative fashion to deafening music. And they stay out past midnight, too.
But if they're here, says the club's outgoing director Deanna Neidlinger, the
teens are safe. The alternative could
be running with street gangs.
says it was hard to entice kids to come to Christian youth events. '"The
average kid on the corner would get a flyer and it would say 'Come to this
church for a social.' They would laugh,
rip it up and throw it on the ground.
It just wouldn't happen."
youth outreach worker had the idea to start a downtown nightclub for
teens. In 2004, the Christian aid group
Club Friday to its domestic poverty
relief efforts. The club plays hip-hop,
a musical genre that adults frequently dislike because of the profane and
sometimes violent lyrics.
defends the club's playlist. "It wouldn't make sense to reach out to the
toughest kids who have been the least reached, the hardest served, with music
that doesn't relate to their experience." However, the nightclub does play
the radio versions of hip-hop hits, in which the cuss words have been edited
community for those who choose it
Dominique Lewis has found friends and community in the no smoking, no drinking
nightclub crowd. He says it's a safe place to be. "You know, if you need
somebody to vent to, we have mentors here.
It is very comforting here. It is a home away from home. People say school is a home away from home.
But it is not. School is a prison away
this year, Lewis and his friend Sondra Mays helped some churches in a rural
part of Washington state start a copycat Friday night club. Lewis was surprised
that he didn't see any blacks in the crowd. "But the place was packed with
Caucasians listening to the same music we listen to, dancing the same way we dance."
Mays was surprised, too, but says it made her realize "we can go global
with this. Yeah, we can go national with this."
for a prevention approach to gangs
Vision helped these two teens – and 15 others – go national, flying them to Washington, DC to talk
to their Senators and Congressmen. Mays
says they urged the lawmakers to direct anti-gang spending to intervention and
prevention instead of more jail time. "Get them off the streets. Give those
people money so they can make flyers so they can get out there and get kids
into their buildings. Help them, mentor
them, tutor them." Club Friday is open after school on weekdays to provide
some of those very services.
it can't reach every wayward teen. "'This club is whacked [stupid]," sneers
Mario Jones, hanging out with friends around the corner. "Ain't nothing
but cops around here and only [ages] 16 to 21 let in. It's whacked."
police, politicians and social workers are warning of a resurgence of gang
activity in poor neighborhoods, not just in Tacoma, but also across the
country. In response, police departments have created gang-suppression units
and try to keep track of gang members on probation. Local lawmakers have
established curfews for young people and promoted summer employment and other
development programs. Faith-based groups hope their projects –
like Club Friday – can add a positive,