It wasn’t long ago that messages of self-determination and reliability echoed throughout diverse places of worship, colleges, barbershops, and civil rights organizations throughout the black community. The late 50s and 60s were a time of ownership for people and their destiny. Martin Luther King exemplified what the right leader could do if he emerged at the right time. King used fiery rhetoric and self evident truths to raise the moral compass of African-Americans and a nation.
King shattered stereotypes with his ascension, and liberated the psyches of blacks and whites in the process. Perception is still often viewed as truth, but nothing could be further from reality. The national consensus at the time of the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement was based on a racist view that fostered a deeply indoctrinated skepticism toward a black person’s ability to make one iota of difference in matters of importance. Sadly, it was symbolically significant to many Americans when black players were given a place of intellectual responsibility in any matter, including skill positions on their favorite professional athletic teams. And there stood King, a man who could stand on the world stage, debate with presidents, scholars, theologians, and peers, and change the course of history in the process. Perception gave way to truth.
The election of Barack Obama ushered in a different age. Spellbound viewers watched a tall, slender, black man take center stage in world history. This was not someone who did not identify with his ethnicity; rather, he used it as a story teller, subtly mentioning its historical significance in route to the presidency. He was essentially stating, “There are no limitations; all things are possible!”
Possibility has its place, and whenever options are expanded, hope springs. But there are salient lessons that were left behind in the years since King’s departure from the American stage. The lessons of respect, unity, and community have become secondary to rife individualism as the pillars of the community began an exodus out, ushering in the following issues in their absence:
1. A crisis of fathers and mentors
2. Increased numbers of children born out of wedlock
4. Businesses closed or moved out
5. Unemployment and poverty
6. Gangs and drugs proliferated
7. Law enforcement targeted our communities
8. The War on Drugs and unfair sentencing practices increased the number of males who were locked up
9. Criminal lifestyles were normalized
Now we need to turn things around.
One way of getting back the lessons learned is by investing in the family unit and mentoring programs. The Black family has not always been in this shape, contrary to popular opinion; it was a very strong unit in the 40s, 50s and early 60s. The percentage of children born outside of marriage ranged from 14 percent in 1940 to 24 percent in 1965. These children are much more likely to end up in poverty or involved in crime. One way to mitigate the negative influences of poverty, and absentee fathers is mentoring from strong, positive males.
Opportunities exist like never before for many blacks, who have access to proper education, good parenting, mentoring, and are blessed enough to live in neighborhoods where they can feel a modicum of security, and a sense of safety when they report a crime. The economic disparities along racial lines still remain firmly in place. And we still have to find a way to deal with the cultural poverty brought by the parallel culture of the code of the street.
The road before us is not as daunting or challenging as things were in the past, but it is daunting none the less. Questions about the journey should revolve around how we get there, who will lead us, and what am I willing to invest? In a post-racial world poverty and those trapped in it are suppose to have an equal chance, and those trapped more often than not are people of color. But what is equal? Is it a matter of reality or perception? Sad to say, it’s the latter.