The African American communities in Newark are slowly being pushed aside and moved out. It is only a matter of time before we are as politically irrelevant as we are economically irrelevant. And this is largely due to our own failures.
Over the past 37 years we have clearly demonstrated our inability to see after our neighborhoods, schools and economic interests. Many of our intellectuals and accomplished professionals have abandoned the city and we have become wards of those who spend kindly of their largesse on our behalf. This pitiful self-imposed reality is the face that we present to the world and is the main reason that we are treated with disdain and disrespect by others and increasingly by our own.
The recent deaths of three young Newarkers has led to many expressions of grief and support. There are even expanded calls for unity to guard against recurring violence. None can doubt that these expressions are genuine and heartfelt. But what are they likely to mean in the long run? And what expressions have we reserved for all of our other young people who have been killed, maimed and forgotten? What unactionable rhetoric shall we spout in their honor? As has become common, even in the face of horrific circumstances we demonstrate ourselves to be fundamentally impotent. We are slow to take definitive action on our own behalf while others step forward and do for us. Doing for self quietly slips off the option table. Just one more reason for disdain and disrespect.
Prudential Insurance Company and others have stepped forward to offer support in the wake of the recent Newark slaughters. They are to be commended. They are exhibiting the finest elements of human behavior. But we must ask ourselves what will be the sustainable contribution of the Black community that speaks to this and all instances where Black youth are killed or maimed either physically or psychologically? How we answer this question could well define our future as a community and a people. The whole world is waiting for us to behave responsibly as a community. Our community needs self-support sustainability in addition to the welcomed “emotional reactionary giving” now taking place. It would provide a much-needed signal of care and concern as an important building block for self-sufficiency.
Much violent and dysfunctional behavior by Black youth is directly attributable to the irresponsible behavior of Black adults. When you consider that we have provided virtually no institutions or mechanisms for the advancement or protection of our children, it is not difficult to understand their hostility towards us. Our children are at war with themselves, our very survival and us. They are more inclined to destroy us than protect us. And even a regard for something as simple as keeping our own community clean for reasons of good health is not evident in their attitudes and behavior. How did this happen?
A close examination reveals that someone other than us provides nearly all goods, services or support that our children require for their advancement or survival. In a sense we are neither their parents nor protectors—the system is. We have let their schools fail, provided no jobs for them, taught them nothing of business, left them unprotected against violence and exploitation and are unable to respond in their favor when they face dire emergencies. Far too many of them are on their own. Why should they care anything about our safety or us? It seems to us that their lashing out and even a degree of their violence, though unacceptable, is certainly understandable. Black adults must change our behavior if we expect Black youth the change theirs. We must become the life models and protectors that our children deserve and have a right to expect. Where do we start?
Make every child safe going to and from school. If we want to convey the idea that school is important and we want children to treat school with respect and show up ready to learn and quit disruptive behavior, we must first guarantee them safe passage. Doing so would demonstrate that schools have priority status in the community. Community members, men in particular, must assist in this effort. This cannot be done by police and is rightfully the job of parents and surrogates willing to take responsibility for children who are without reliable parenting. We must sacrifice time to show up at and in the vicinity of schools to watch over our kids so they understand how much we love them and demand their safety. They will reward the entire community with better behavior if they have this kind of support. Giving them safe passage to and from school will also deny gang members recruitment opportunities. By putting ourselves on the line for our kids we will take many of them out of play for those working overtime to exploit them.
Matching contributions of corporations and philanthropists does not always require money. And we will never have their respect so long as we allow ourselves to be their wards.
Let’s accept responsibility for our youth. They are our children. This is our community. We should assume our duty with pride, joy and enthusiasm. All civilized people understand that their survival is directly related to how well they treat and guard their assets. And what asset can have more value than our children? Every day we are reaping and witnessing the results of their ill treatment at our hands. Instead of taking control of the situation, some of us condemn “the system” for whatever is wrong in our community. We submit that it is precisely the lack of “a system of our own” that leaves us wanting, lacking and begging. So let’s start with our children. Not only is it right, it is the issue over which we are likely to have the least amount of disagreement.
In nearly every area someone else is doing more for us than we are doing for ourselves. We should feel ashamed and embarrassed. The most talented among us should be eager with rage to acquit us all in better stead. No intelligent or respected people have ever left their development and future entirely in the hands of others. Our future is not now in our hands but it could and should be—bright or bleak, the choice is ours. If we want to survive and thrive in a city soaked with our blood, sweat and suffering we must now offer each other our unselfish cooperative work. If we want to matter and preserve a substantial future in Newark for our children and ourselves, we must aggressively turn to “Us For Once” and get up off our knees. It’s just that simple.
August 15, 2007