A mission to redeem marginalized young Black men

Gregory Ellison

The Gospels report that Jesus sought out the marginalized in his society. For the church to continue Jesus’ work, it cannot neglect those who exist on the fringes today.

Gregory Ellison, an assistant professor of pastoral care and counseling at Emory’s Candler School of Theology, has been at the forefront of the mission to reach a group of those individuals. He focuses on turning around the lives of young Black men.

Ellison is the author of a recently released book that addresses that group: Cut Dead but Still Alive: Caring for African American Young Men. In his book, he examines the challenges and opportunities of young Black men whom Ellison says are mute and invisible. His book is a call to action and a plan for improving their life outcomes.

According to the National Urban League’s State of Black America report, Black men lag behind counterparts in other races. They are nearly seven times more likely to be incarcerated and serve longer jail sentences than White men. And for a number of reasons, including lower academic achievement, Black men are more than twice as likely to be unemployed compared to White men. In addition, Black males 15 to 34 years old are nine times more likely to be killed by firearms and nearly eight times more likely to contract AIDS.

For those and other reasons, young Black men are among the marginalized in society. Some say they are invisible because they have no voice and are ignored. Ellison, a scholar and activist, has made it his spiritual mission to make a difference.

As a seminary student at Princeton University, Ellison pastored a church in Newark, N.J., and counseled young men who had been recently released from prison and juvenile detention. 

In Cut Dead but Still Alive, Ellison chronicles the lives of five young men he encountered and charts their development from being emotionally, psychologically and spiritually snubbed and “cut dead” to personal redemption. These young men, Ellison insists, want to be a part of the broader community and have a sense of belonging. They seek the best for themselves and their family, he added.

He tells the story of one young man, a drug dealer, whom counselors pressured to quit the drug trade. In a defining moment, the young man told Ellison and others, “You don’t know me.”

The young man explained that he sells drugs because his mother is a crack addict who prostitutes herself from home, where his younger sisters also reside. “So, I sell drugs to keep the men from coming into my home and protect my younger sisters,” he said. â€

Ellison recalled: “At that moment the air went out of the room. And when it returned, we realized that we had to mobilize around this young man, not only to offer support to him but to the family that he was seeking to sacrifice the life of his mother for.”â€

The term “cut dead” means to be “deliberately ignored or snubbed completely,” Ellison explained. He borrowed the term from the 19th century psychologist William James who writes about humans as social beings.

“James asserted that it would be a cruel and fiendish punishment for any person to go unnoticed or unseen, to be made invisible,” Ellison said. “James recognized that people would rather be tortured than to be ‘cut dead.’” â€

The remedy, said Ellison, is to view all of humanity as being made in the image of God. “Once you begin to see a homeless person as someone’s uncle, or brother, or aunt, or sister, or mother, you can’t just step over them as a piece of trash because you have seen them fully,” he underscores. “Hence my mantra: Once you see, you cannot not see.” â€

Although the book focuses on young Black men, Ellison points to four fundamental needs that apply to all humanity: “a sense of belonging, control, self-esteem and meaningful existence.”

“It is my hope that this book will help us to see all people in a more human and even a more divine way: That we are all worthy of respect, all worthy of an opportunity to succeed, all worthy of an opportunity to make the best for our family,” he said.

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One thought on “A mission to redeem marginalized young Black men

  • September 24, 2013 at 11:38 am

    Simply breathtaking. I pray that Mr. Ellison is blessed with all the resources needed to accomplish all that God has called him to. My heart has been blessed by his GREAT HEART for those in need, especially considering that with his gifts and accomplishments.


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