Mariama White-Hammond, 29
Executive Director, Youth Worker, Community Organizer, Project HIP-HOP;
Minister-in-Training at Bethel AME Church
Project HIP-HOP (Highways Into the Past—History, Organizing and Power) is a youth-led, secular, non-profit organization. Through the study of hip-hop culture and the history of social movements, it engages young people in critically analyzing the past and present so they can take action to make a better future.
- What one or two things most motivated you to get involved?
1. I grew up in an amazing community where I felt nurtured and challenged, but I also grew up in a neighborhood where other young people did not have that same privilege. My parents taught me that God blesses us because we are called to bless others. This is what I am called to do, and I wouldn't be fulfilled doing anything else.
2. During high school, I wished I had been able to be part of the Civil Rights movement. That time has passed, but the issues have not. I believe that the young people I serve can and will start a new movement for change. So I want to be on their bandwagon.
-As you think about your work and/or your participation in the body of Christ, what's your biggest passion?
These days I am really excited about the way that the church is making room for new ways of worship. There are still those that think that hip-hop is demonic, as they did about rock and the bar tunes that are the foundations of some of our most popular hymns, but there are a growing number of people who see hip-hop as a powerful tool to connect with young people and worship God in some new ways.
Truthfully, any time barriers are being broken, I get excited. I am really excited about bringing folks together across lots of different dividing lines to figure out how we deal with the major problems of our day. I find that, no matter what labels we put on ourselves, that when we sit down we can find a lot more in common than we think.
-What's the biggest challenge you see facing young Christians/the church now? In the years to come?
I think we basically always face the same problems: 1. Can we shut up long enough to hear God? 2. When God speaks, can we be obedient? 3. Can we be loving enough to non-believers that they will ever believe that our God is love?
I believe that the world knows that things are bad and they are searching for a prophetic voice, but even more they are searching for people who believe so much that they are willing to put their own comfort on the line. If we could do that, we could take the world by storm.
-We hear often that young Christians'—particularly evangelicals'—perceptions of Christianity are changing, that their concerns are broadening to encompass more social justice issues. Do you see this happening in your own experience? Or, if you would describe your experience of young Christians differently, how would you describe it?
I do see that young Christians are beginning to shift. I think that, particularly around the issue of the environment or issues of war, it is clear to my generation that the way we are living is unsustainable. We are faced with the reality that we are going to pay for some of the short-sightedness of our parents. I think that many of us have never wanted for anything and we see that consumption is not just killing our planet, but that it often creates emptiness.
We want to be more connected to each other—that's why we all live on Facebook. So I know we don't have all the answers, but I think we are beginning to ask the right questions.
-What one thing would you most like to tell Christians?
The same thing that I am always needing to tell myself: The God that we serve is so big that we don't have to be limited by the world that we now see. We serve a God who parted the Red Sea, brought my ancestors out of slavery, and was willing to give the ultimate sacrifice. If we could remember that—we would have the kind of hope that would allow us to live boldly for Christ. Not just trying to get other people to accept Christ, but being willing to live our lives like we really trust him to do what he has said that he will do—to change us and this world.
-What one thing would you most like to tell non-Christians?
I know that the church is not what it should be, but don't just believe what you see on TV. There are a lot of us that are trying to do better.
-What's your biggest challenge personally?
Accepting God's will for my life. Growing up in a family that was pretty well-known, I told God that I wanted to be a ‘behind the scenes’ person. I said that I would not be a minister or marry a minister, but that I would do anything else. Now that I have accepted my call to be a minister, I still struggle to accept that God has called me to live a pretty public life. Never mind the fact that it was pretty obvious to everyone that I was called to be an ‘in the front’ person; I have always wanted to be more ‘behind the scenes,’ because it is a less vulnerable place. So it is often still a struggle for me to accept that I need to get down with God's program.
-How has your family background impacted your vocational journey?
I watched my parents trust God with their lives. They started out as doctors, became ministers, went to places that they never thought they would go—and, in the midst of it all, God has greatly blessed them. Watching their lives has given me confidence that, if you do what God has called you to, he will supply all of your needs. They raised me in a community where folks had some needs that God has called me to address. In what they said and how they lived, I knew that God was calling me to do the same.
-What gives you hope?
The young people that I work with in my organization and in my church give me hope. When I see them stepping out of faith to achieve things that other people don't believe they can do, then I know that God is good.
My niece, who was born at 24 weeks at 1 pound, 8 ounces. They were going to pronounce her stillborn when one nurse believed that he could save her. She has defied all the predictions and, every time I see her running or hear her speak, I remember what the doctors said, and I am reminded that God is still performing miracles every day. I want her and the teens that I work with to see that I am working hard to make the world better for them so that they too can have hope.