If ever a statement to youths or by youths was wrong, it’s “you can do what you want to do”, a statement made by a 21 year old black and quoted by Leonard Pitts, a syndicated columnist who appears frequently in the JS. Pitts wrote a column on 6/17/07 in the St. Louis Dispatch titled “Listening to Young Black People – For a Change”. Pitts asked a group of young black people attending a program called YouthBuild U.SA. (Pitts is writing a series of columns about solutions to the problems that plague black kids.) “Why are black kids failing in disproportionate numbers?” and here is what they said: “Some parents can’t even provide a stable home for their kids. They stress themselves. They’ll resort to drugs or violence to fill the void. Some people just don’t have no hope” said 20 year old Shardell Martin.
“It’s a lot of teenagers having babies so you have immature people that haven’t grown up themselves, so when you raise a child, you give your child the same attitude. It’s just a domino effect—the parents don’t have enough structure to teach their kids structure. Then their grandparents are, like, 27” said 20 year old Sylvester Waller.
“For some, having a baby matures you faster and you want to become more responsible, said Ms. Martin, but my cousin, who is 25 and has a baby, didn’t stop her from still running the streets. She’s going to do what she wanna do. She got to hit rock bottom.”
“Its generational curses we’re trying to break here,” said 21 year old Domonique Williams. “If you look at everyone in the room, we’re all fruits of that. The crack epidemic, we’re the next generation after that, and it’s hard to grow up in that kind of environment and do the right thing when everything around you isn’t right.”
Pitts then asked if black kids have not come to define academic success as something white. “That goes back to slavery,” said Martin, “from when they was tellin’ the black people, Y’all are niggers, y’all ain’t gon” be nothing,’ and they wasn’t even entitled to an education.”
“Most of the people we see who are successful play sports or are in the music business,” said Williams. “That’s why we, as people of color, want to strive to be athletes, want to strive to be in the music business. That’s where we see the most success.”
Said Paul, “If we as blacks don’t stop wanting to hurt each other, we’re not going to have that many successful black people out there. It seems like…another black person don’t ever want to see their own color doing good. But if you go to them white people, they congratulate their own color. I don’t understand that. I really never got that.”
“Like me, Paul said, “I want to own my own business because I’ll be darned if I’m going to sit there and work for a white man all my life, and I refuse to struggle all my life. I refuse.”
Said Lisa Rollin, 21, “We need to stop blaming other people for our faults. Step up and take the lead for our own problems. Nowadays, you can see a lot of people saying I can’t be this, I can’t do this….’If you step back and take a look at yourself, you can do whatever you want to do.”
As a black leader, I have always felt that Pitts left a lot to be desired. He makes no efforts to comment, just listen and report to the reader what he hears. He should be saying “no, you can’t always do and be what you want to be but you can work hard and try. If you don’t succeed at first, the work ethic you developed will lead to successes you might least expect..” That is a major problem not only among black people but many white people as well. The advice black and white leaders should be giving is “develop a work ethic, set your sights on some reachable goal, accept that you may not be a sports or music star, be flexible and respect authority, learn to communicate, learn to read and interpret correctly as best you can what you read and hear, be patient and not believe all hyped things like money, jewelry, cars and sex should be yours NOW.
We do a terrible injustice to kids to tell them they can do whatever they want and be whatever they want to be. While all kids are all born with some unique talent, few will ever make their living in sports and music Leading kids to believe they will all be successful because they have some talent is the hypocrisy preached by too much of the leadership in this country. Nor saying a black won’t work for “the man”, won’t do much to help anyone’s career either.
Sean Slaughter a black of “Holy Hip Hop fame says, “I now realize the one thing the majority of parents with troubled kids have in common is communication. Parents are simply out of touch with today’s young generation and young people feel parents just don’t understand.”
Local Patti Polk says “The problem in this troubled community violence is alcohol and drugs. It’s a lack of jobs, people being able to provide a decent living for themselves. I think all these things go hand in hand and people get desperate. Sometimes they go to illegal means to do that.”