As I turned the corner a block from my home I was surprised to see a wave of nearly fifty young men and women, all wearing white T-shirts. It’s not unusual to see groups of young men wearing white tees in my neighborhood. They have become a kind of uniform publicized by the hip-hop group, Dem Franchize Boyz, in their song, The White Tee Gang, and by other rappers.
Some schools, restaurants and clubs have even begun to ban white tees because they have become so associated with gang affiliation. Police officers are often baffled when the description is broadcast that they are looking for a young black man in a white tee. They arrive to find ten young men who would fit the description. The tees have become a symbol of solidarity in the face of the injustice of the system.
These tees were different. They had black writing on them. I strained to read what was on the shirts as I slowed to let a group of them cross the street in front of me. As young man graciously waved me on, I read his shirt. “We are all family.”
“Isn’t that nice?” I thought. “Someone on the block is having a family reunion.” Then I noticed the backs of the shirts. In bold letters was written, “Black Souls.” My heart sank. The family that all of these young people on my block were associating with is a notorious street gang.
I have a dream that someday the white tees in our neighborhood will be replaced by Breakthrough tees. The kids get them when they participate in any of our sports leagues, after school programs, the choir or the hunger walk. One by one the white tees in our neighborhood are being offset by the multi-colored Breakthrough tees symbolizing the young people who really want to do well in school and to participate in positive activities that ensure a bright future instead of the violence and the hopeless downward spiral of gang life.
"We are all family". It's how I would describe the reign of the shalom of God, the answer to Jesus' prayer that the will of God be done on earth as it is in heaven. But if we are not family to our children, they will find their family somewhere else.