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.
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
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. Hed like to go back.
"Its tough being a Yankee down here," says Brandon,
a fit, handsome teen with close-cropped blond hair. "Its
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 its not really his stepfather, but the man his
mother has been living with for 11 years.
"Theyre pretty much married," Brandon says with
a shrug. "Theyre actually engaged, but they havent
set a date yet."
Brandon lived with his father in Maine last summer, but he wont
this year because hes 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 doesnt
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 its confined to eight hours on weekends.
Church is not a part of his schedule. "Im not religious,"
he says. "I dont 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 hours 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 hasnt
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 shes
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 dont even know where a church is. I dont
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
havent been in one fight here. And Im going to get my
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
At Third Place, a downtown coffeehouse, teens regularly gather
for no real purpose other than to perhaps escape their homes for
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
"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 dont 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 Im 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 doesnt remember. Trents parents divorced when
he was 6 months old and he says his father never made an effort
to ever be involved in his life. Trents 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 wasnt
aware of it," says Trent, who sports earrings, a lip ring and
a backwards cap. Marriage is certainly not in Trents 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 cant
remember if it was Baptist or Methodist. "I dont feel
like going to church anymore," says Trent, who has been smoking
since 14 but is trying to quit. "I dont feel the need.
I guess when I die Ill 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 shes 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 its bad."
John W. Kennedy is an associate editor of
the Pentecostal Evangel.