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Raleigh, North Carolina

The American dream?

By John W. Kennedy

Even though the South historically has the highest church attendance in the nation, Raleigh is atypical for a city once in the heart of the Confederacy. People from around the nation and even around the world have flocked to the capital of North Carolina because of an abundance of high-tech jobs that have made it wealthier than many other Southern cities. The median income for Wake County, which includes Raleigh, is $54,700.

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There also is an emphasis on higher education in the region. North Carolina State, the largest school in the state, is in Raleigh; Duke is next door in Durham; and the University of North Carolina is in nearby Chapel Hill. In the middle is Research Triangle Park, home to more than 75 companies, including Glaxo Wellcome, Nortel and IBM. In the past four decades, Research Triangle Park has transformed Raleigh from a sleepy state capital between the Atlantic Coast beaches and the Blue Ridge Mountains to one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. The population grew 18.5 percent during the 1990s to 276,093.

Besides being home to thousands of top-paying, high-stress, long-hour jobs, Raleigh has its share of disaffected youth. Nevertheless, finding the right job and making plans for college are priorities for many Raleigh teens. Subsequently, while many are career focused, few appear concerned about the Lord.

Brandon*, 16, moved to Raleigh 18 months ago from his native Maine. He’d like to go back.

"It’s tough being a Yankee down here," says Brandon, a fit, handsome teen with close-cropped blond hair. "It’s not easy to make friends. It seems like they have something against you just because you talk different." Brandon looks like many teen-age boys. He wears baggy pants, a gold chain around his neck and has stubble on his chin. He moved to Raleigh with his mom, 18-year-old sister and stepfather, who works for a computer firm.

Brandon says it’s not really his stepfather, but the man his mother has been living with for 11 years.

"They’re pretty much married," Brandon says with a shrug. "They’re actually engaged, but they haven’t set a date yet."

Brandon lived with his father in Maine last summer, but he won’t this year because he’s employed five days a week at KFC. He never remembers his parents living together; they divorced when he was 2.

Someday Brandon would like to marry, but he is certain he doesn’t want to marry while a teen-ager as his mother, now 36, did. She was too young, he says.

Brandon came by himself to suburban Crabtree Valley Mall, where he wants a haircut. The friends Brandon has managed to make have largely come through skateboarding, which is nearly a year-round outdoor activity in the temperate climate of Raleigh. Before he started his fast-food restaurant job, Brandon took to a skateboard every day. Now it’s confined to eight hours on weekends.

Church is not a part of his schedule. "I’m not religious," he says. "I don’t go to church."

What is a priority is work, or more precisely, a paycheck. "I get what I want," Brandon says. "If I see something I want, I work hard to get it."

Brenda, 17, moved to Raleigh a month ago with her 14-year-old sister Kayla. They are staying in a two-bedroom apartment with their 20-year-old brother Luis, who works at a department store. The girls had lived with their mother, who lives an hour’s drive away. But Brenda found the town of 20,000 too dull. She came to Raleigh for a better-paying job, in her case with a uniform service company. Brenda, a slender, attractive dark-haired girl, had been in 11th grade, but she hasn’t gotten around to looking into education in Raleigh. For now her full-time job and the money it brings are her daytime priorties.

At night she likes to go dancing at nightclubs. At the moment she’s grabbing a quick meal at the mall food court.

Brenda and her siblings moved to North Carolina with their mother eight years ago from their native Mexico after the parents divorced. Her father remains in Mexico and she rarely sees him. Although she knew no English upon moving to the United States, she now speaks the language fluently.

When she was younger, her mother raised her in the Catholic faith.

"I used to go to church almost every Sunday," Brenda says. "But I don’t even know where a church is. I don’t have the time. I have work now."

Shawn, 17, is a transplant, moving to Raleigh three months ago from New York City. He, too, moved to the area for work — and to try for a fresh start.

"I was getting into lots of fights and I was kicked out of school," says Shawn, who lives with an uncle and aunt. "I haven’t been in one fight here. And I’m going to get my GED."

Shawn says his parents divorced when he was 3. Shawn works full time as a photo technician, and he anticipates going to a technical school and eventually becoming a graphics animator. The atmosphere is better in Raleigh, at least for staying centered on career goals.

"I used to go to clubs in New York City," he says as he walks around the mall. "But everything closes early here."

He says he used to attend church regularly, but so far in Raleigh he hasn’t.

At Third Place, a downtown coffeehouse, teens regularly gather for no real purpose other than to perhaps escape their homes for a while.

Lisa, 17, says even though her mom used to be "really religious" she herself has been to church once in her life and that was years ago.

"I believe in karma and reincarnation," says Lisa, a thin, dark-haired girl. "If you do something bad it will come back on you."

Lisa is counting the days until she finishes high school, but she concedes she has no plans other than to "party on" at spots such as Third Place.

"I don’t really have a future," says Lisa, taking a puff from a cigarette. The fumes are thick on the sidewalk outside the business because no smoking is permitted inside. Lisa would like to find a job. She definitely wants to move out of the house, where her 21-year-old brother also lives.

"My parents realize I’m not a child anymore, but living with them is rough," she says.

Trent, who just turned 18, has no clear goals either, although he has a construction job that pays decent money. Trent has a good relationship with his mom, but he is embittered about his father, whom he doesn’t remember. Trent’s parents divorced when he was 6 months old and he says his father never made an effort to ever be involved in his life. Trent’s mother remarried when he was 2 and he considers that man his father. Yet that marriage went sour after eight years and his mother divorced again.

"He had a cheating problem, but at the time I wasn’t aware of it," says Trent, who sports earrings, a lip ring and a backwards cap. Marriage is certainly not in Trent’s immediate future. His mom, now 37, was pregnant with Trent at his age.

Trent says he used to attend church all the time, although he can’t remember if it was Baptist or Methodist. "I don’t feel like going to church anymore," says Trent, who has been smoking since 14 but is trying to quit. "I don’t feel the need. I guess when I die I’ll go to heaven."

Lavender-haired Daphne, 16, moved from her parents’ home and dropped out of school. She went to an unsupervised house maintained by a 17-year-old friend where several dysfunctional teens lived.

The house was the scene of wild parties, fighting and filth. "There definitely was too much testosterone there," she says. After a month in the environment she returned home. "I learned a lot about the real world."

She also has started school again, as a second-year sophomore. Her goal is to someday attend art school. Currently she’s a vocalist in a local band.

Daphne tried attending a nondenominational church in 1999, during what she calls her "Christian summer." Her grandmother had died and that piqued her interest in spiritual matters.

"It made me think there is perhaps an afterlife," says Daphne, who says she believes in the big bang theory of evolution. "But now I think everything is relative. Something is bad only if you think it’s bad."

John W. Kennedy is an associate editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Names have been changed.


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