Today’s teenagers, particulary African-American and Hispanic, are faced with many challenges that continue to hinder progress in practically every conceivable notion of the “American Dream.” I feel we’ve come a very long way and I think we are progressing in the right direction, for the most part, but we’re still climbing an uphill battle. So what do you see as the biggest challenges facing African-American and/or Hispanic TEENS today?
Let’s determine what our issues are and figure our ways to help our young brothas and sistas…
Altruistic Leadership, guiding others with the ulitmate goal of empowering them and improving their wellness, intellectually and emotionally is essential to my identity as a man and my purpose in life. I’ve mentioned several times before that helping others is an obligation for me as a human being, as a man, a leader, provider and academic. Giving back fulfills an expectation in each one of these roles I play. So my message for today is, “We can’t save the world, but we can all do our part.”
What if we begin seeing the true power of our own influence as individuals–as community and school leaders, mentors, church and mosque members, parent, concerned citizens as opposed to resting most, if not all, of the responsibility on entertainers like rappers and athletes? Please don’t get me wrong, though. I definitely believe celebrities have a role (there will be a post about them in the very near future) in the upliftment of our communities and serving as role models for our children, but that’s indirect influence. How many of us have actually been inspired to give back to the community by watching those ‘NBA Cares’ commercials? Definitely not me. I applaud celeb servicemen like Jim Brown, Seattle Seahawk Shaun Alexander, rappers T.I., Common and Ludacris. They’ve all done tremendous work in their communities through youth programs and financial donations. I also think that Dwayne Wade winning ‘Humanitarian of the Year’ at the BET Awards this year was epic. Wade represents what I think most of us would like to see from our professional athletes, especially African-American enterntainers who are idolized by our young brothas and sistas.
But my point here is that each one of us has a role to give back to our respective communities, but it’s even more important that we instill a giving spirit in our youth. To help a young person recognize that there is a greater purpose outside of himself is essential to his soul; and actually, it’s essential to our soul as a people. An individual grows as his community grows, a nation grows as all of its communities grow; therefore, responsibility to our communities and the people within them should be of the upmost importance. Altruistic leadership and community service can change a community one person at a time. It teaches our children humility, respect, instills a sense of work ethic, balance, and in the long run, it will make them better parents for their children. Just imagine if all of us, you, me, and our children, implemented a uniform system of caring for the downtrodden, the voiceless, the sick, feeble, and disabled?
As rewarding as it is for me in my personal journey, nothing is more fulfilling and exhiliarating than helping to instill the same feeling and committment in others, which is why I try to involve my family and my young bros in as many community involvement projects as I can.
If you are not actively engaged in efforts and progressive actions that will help us as a community, especially for our younger generation, we will continue to allow others to mistreat, degrade, and disenfranchise our people.
Start by doing the smallest you can do…
- Steer away from negative energy. Stop thinking negatively and taking negative actions that impact your well-being, your family, your cominity and our ancesters.
- Stop worrying about things that are beyond your control and concentrate on what you can do.
- Stop thinking negatively and taking negative actions that impact your well-being, your family, your community, and our ancestors.
- Have respect for your self and others; does not necessarily mean you have to be friends with everyone, but you can, at least, be cordial and courteous. Greet one another, wave, say ‘Hello’.
Steps as simple these may, to some, seem easier said than done and to others, it may seem like not enough; maybe I’m just stating the obvious. However, as a community, we don’t do enough of these. We don’t uplift our brothers and sisters, and we don’t empower one another. We degrade each other with B***, H***, N**** or the amalgamation of a number of epithets such as, “B**** Ass N***”, which, I guess, would be the lowest degradation of a N***** (which would further imply that among Blacks there’s a heirarchy of N*****s, a heirarchy within the lowliest classification on the social stratum. Sounds ludicrous, huh?).
All I’m saying is, there are so many manifestations of subconscious self-hatred that we inflict upon ourselves and to one another; so much, in fact, that we basically “welcome” others to treat us similarly. We get degraded, ridiculed, stepped on, spit on and pushed down by society because we have exhibited such malicious and self-destructive behavior amongst our own people. Maybe if we begin to treat each other with more dignity and respect; treat one another as brothers and sisters with a common struggle, a common legacy, common ancestors, and a common future, maybe we’ll finally begin to see ourselves as the kings and queens we are; and, our strong sense of pride and committment to the betterment of our community will be respected and recognized by the world at large. Dedicate each day to doing something positive, productive, and progressive that will indubitably radiate your influence.
Too many Black youth have no idea where Black folk have been and only dimly know what we’ve had to do to get where we are. But it isn’t primarily their fault. We have reneged on our responsibility as Black adults to keep the culture vital by making it relevant to contemporary struggles. That means translating the terms of past struggle into present action. Instead, older Blacks often nostagically rehash romantic memories of the past, failing to acknowledge just how remarkably similar our failures and prospects for triumph are to those of the hip-hop generation.” –Michael Eric Dyson, The Michael Eric Dyson Reader
Our struggle has existed for generations, centuries even. Granted, I do believe there was more of a committment to the upliftment of our community and our people, more pride in the purest essence of who we are back in, say, the 20s up to The Sixties, the entire Civil Rights Era; but, that doesn’t mean there weren’t young drunkards, dope peddlers, and everyday miscreants. The escalation of violence due to the infiltration of crack cocaine into our neighborhoods along with the lure of gangs who offered “immediate material gratification (Dyson, 141)” and the lifestyle that came with it isn’t anything new. For us, the adults, I think it’s pure fallacy to romanticize our upbringing as if the younger generation is far worse than we ever were. As Dyson notes here, generationally speaking, our failures are about the same, so are our struggles, as was the generation before, and the generation before. It’s a cycle. The underdevelopment of our youth, quite frankly, could partly be blamed on our inability to secure economic stability through gainful employment and career opportunities, an identity, eteem and self-worth. I would, however, like to emphasis the word ‘partly‘ because we have always struggled with socio-political disenfranchisement, discrimination, and racism. But my point here is to emphasize that we have reneged on our responsibility as adults, and it’s up to us, as Dyson posits, to translate “the terms of past struggle into present action.”
Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farworkers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another. –Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom
You thoughts? What implications does this have for our future leaders? What can we learn from this quote?
Our progression as a people can partly be attributed to our heroic trailblazers. However, when our leaders were killed or forced into exile, we were left with a void in our soul as a people, the effect that a dying star has in a galaxy—a black hole, if you will, an intense gravitational collapse; or, in this case, an intense social and moral collapse. Spiritually, many of our souls were sucked away into the abyss only to fall into the hands of the street gangs of the 70s, the crack cocaine of the 80s, and the gangsta rap of the 90s. Willingly or maybe out of hopelessness and aimlessness, our children followed, and continue to do so.
I was perusing through Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom looking for a little inspiration to write my next blog post (which turned out to be this one) and I came across a number of powerful statements on leadership and commitment which gave me goose bumps. He wrote:
“A garden was one of the few things in prison that one could control. To plant a seed, watch it grow, to tend it and then harvest it, offered a simple but enduring satisfaction. The sense of being the custodian of this small patch of earth offered a small taste of freedom. In some ways, I saw the garden as a metaphor for certain aspects of my life. A leader must also tend his garden; he too, plants seeds, and then watches, cultivates, and harvests the result. Life the gardener, a leader must take responsibility for what he cultivates; he must mind his work, try to repel enemies, preserve what can be preserved, and eliminate what cannot succeed.”
He further writes,
“In life, every man has twin obligations—obligations to his family, to his parents, to his wife and children; and he has an obligation to his people, his community, his country. In a civil and humane society, each man is able to fulfill those obligations according to his own inclinations and abilities.”
I recall on a few occasions being asked about why I mentor, why I spend as much time with these young bros as I do, why I am constantly lending myself to volunteerism. My usual response is that this is not a choice. It’s an obligation. Before I stand corrected or criticized, I do believe all Americans should hold themselves to this principle, but as an African-American, I believe we, of all people, through our tumultuous history and our continuous struggle, have a moral, spiritual, and ancestral obligation to our people, our community, and especially our youth. James Baldwin is quoted with having said, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” Whether you like it or not, they’re watching us, imitating the example set by us. So when you speak judgmentally on them, you’re speaking on your ineffectiveness as a positive change agent in our community.
Using Mandela’s metaphor, as gardeners it is all of our responsibility to see to it that our crops are cultivated and harvested under our watchful eyes; and, take responsibility for what we cultivate. I think we’ve lost sight of this. We blame the rappers. Rappers blame society. Society blames all of us. We blame parents. The blame game continues. Although all of these facets of our community are responsible for influence on our children’s minds, I believe that the blaming is a passive approach. We cannot continue to solely blame parents for recklessness we see in our youth, nor can we put it all on the rappers. These are not solutions. Yes, parenting is a huge problem, but what about you? How much time have you put into the community? How much time have you spent reaching out to the younger generation that is not a part of your immediate family? Or are you simply concerned with yourself and your own family? I debated a brotha once and he basically told me, “Well, I’m from a single parent household too and I made it. My grandma was there..blah blah blah. These parents nowadays suck.” I applaud you for pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps, but the strength of our people rests on the shoulders of all of us, not just you. Whatever happened to “It takes a village…”? Have we gotten that afraid of our kids? Our own kids? Have we given up? We cannot continue to blame the prison industrial complex for locking up our kids if we’re not actively engaged in our communities, if we’re not taking responsibility for our crops. Our children need leadership, love, guidance, understanding, compassion, and most importantly, an entire community of gardeners present, actively participating in the watering, the nurturing, and even procreation of successful generations. A gardener is all of those, including protector. We are not protecting our youth from the vices that entrap so many by educating them on the pitfalls to come, and then reaching down to pull them up when they fall. So in the spirit of Mandela and all those who shed blood, sweat, tears and even their own lives, let’s be gardeners.
One of the segments I’m most proud of in this manhood development program are our book studies. We’ve wrapped up the 2nd year of our literacy and historical study initiative, and I believe our young bros were enlightened and inspired by the texts we read. The first year we started this, we read The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley, and during this most recent school year, 2012-13, we finished Narratives in the Life of Fredrick Douglass. And throughout the year, we read texts about Fred Hampton, a little of the Willie Lynch letter, and “What to the Slave is the 4th of July” by Fredrick Douglass.
Because I want to make this a yearly initiative, I’m always on the hunt for new material for the next book study. I look for books that are empowering, but I also look for titles that they can relate to on a historical and cultural level. What I really want them to get from the titles I choose is a deep understanding of history and social nuances, the perspective of the author or main protagonist the book is written about (maybe even the antagonists, too), and hopefully something they can take from it for personal growth.
So here are some titles I’m considering for the fall semester of the next school year: (I plan on finishing the book by December and starting another by January.)
I’m at a lost as to what other books I should consider. That’s where you come in at…comment with your suggestions.
In every representation of the Negro, he was pictured as a gorilla dressed up like a man. His picture was never carried in the newspapers of the South (the same rule holds today in most parts of the South) unless he committed a crime….All of this fitted into the stereotype which represented the Negro as subhuman or a beast, without any human qualities. –E. Franklin Frazier, The Black Bourgeoisie, 1957
How do we dispell such stereotypes, or is it even possible? The basis of this manhood development program is to examine such misrepresentations and empower our youth to challenge those in every facet of their lives–to be positive, productive, and purposeful members of society who exhibit thoughts and actions beyond the expected. I remember the Nortorius B.I.G. saying, “Stereotypes of the Black male misunderstood, and it’s still all good.” I agree, Big, we’re misunderstood.
“Black people are told that white people are the cause of just about everything that is wrong with them…They are told that they are victims. And in fact, they are victims, but willing victims. They are not victims of white people. They are victims of a philosophy of victimization. The messages they are getting about their victimization are destroying them. They are taught to see themselves as vitcims, as powerless pawns in the white man’s racist scheme. As long as they think they are powerless victims, that is all the will ever be. Powerless people who accept they powerlessness as permanent have no desire to become educated.” –William Jenkins, Understanding and Educating African-American children.”
I considered our 2011-12 fraternal year my best year. The bond I created with a few of those young bros was amazing. Because some of these young men had more troubled backgrounds than guys I’ve previously brought into the bond, I opened myself up a lot more. With these guys, I found that our struggles were similar; not the same, but painfully similar. I knew that the only way I could connect Continue reading →