A reflection from the 2016 Christian Citizenship Seminar
On April 23rd, Church of the Brethren youth from around the country met in New York City to learn about mass incarceration at Christian Citizenship Seminar (CCS). After hearing from Dr. Richard Newton, a professor at Elizabethtown College, and Ashley Ellis, an advocate for persons reentering society, the youth began to see the connection between mass incarceration and racism in the United States. The youth traveled to Washington, D.C. to continue learning about the issue and to prepare for legislative visits with their senators and representatives. During their visits to Capitol Hill, the youth asked their legislators to support sentencing reform legislation and bills that aided with prison reentry programs. Melen Ghebrai from Olympic View Church of the Brethren (Seattle, Wash.) offered the following reflection about her time at CCS.
—Jesse Winter, Brethren Volunteer Service worker serving with the Office of Public Witness
CCS was an incredible life- changing experience. We began the week instantly exposed to the injustices of the criminal justice system and the immediate urge of reconstruction rather than reform. Each day we had new speakers explain what was happening and why it was important. I recognized the injustice but was confused about what we could do about it. As a high school student and person of color, all throughout my life I have been given the impression that my opinions on certain social and political issues do not matter. CCS, however, changed my doubt and gave me the voice I longed for. Throughout the week each powerful speaker built my passion, interests, and my desire to advocate for a renewed system in society that provides redemption and mercy for its citizens.
At CCS, I met several students from around the U.S and even overseas who share the same faith as me and belong to the Church of the Brethren, and this created a sense of community. We learned beside each other and asked questions, which fueled our interest and passion. As the week came to an end, we divided into groups for our lobby visits. I was accompanied by a volunteer from BVS, but did the visits mostly on my own. The experience was rewarding and very powerful.
Just a week prior I was sitting in a classroom advocating for students pushed from the school to the prison pipeline. It was nice walking through Capitol Hill and meeting with senators and representatives who are pushing for an end to this destructive system. CCS is something I would be very happy to attend next year. It was an opportunity that opened new doors and enlightened youth about the importance of remaining socially aware on the issues and solutions that shape our country.
Christian Citizenship Seminar is organized by the Office of Public Witness and Youth and Young Adult Ministries of the Church of the Brethren. Learn more about CCS at www.brethren.org/ccs, or support this ministry today at www.brethren.org/give.