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.