A few weeks ago I wrote about the evictions of the five Gadsden Green families from public housing because six boys — ages 13 to 16 — were arrested for confronting people on the street with a pellet gun and demanding money.
Under the terms of their housing contracts, the five mothers of these boys and their other 25 children will soon be evicted from Gadsden Green. At least that is the intention of the housing authority.
In my column I supported the housing authority, pointing out that while it is harsh to punish so many for the alleged crimes of a few, it is also unfair to hold the population of Charleston hostage to street crime because five mothers refused to take responsibility for their sons’ behavior.
Of course, the real tragedy here is much larger than these five families. As I wrote on Dec. 12, “The forces that seek to destroy the black community today are largely internal. I refer, of course, to the disintegration of the black family and the concomitant social ills of crime, poverty, illegitimacy, and academic failure.”
I look at the disarray in the black community and wonder if there would be the leadership and moral authority to conduct a civil rights crusade today on a scale of the great crusade of the 1950s and 1960s. If there is such leadership and moral authority, it is not focused on the pathologies affecting the modern black community.
One of the hardest things an individual or group can ever do is look at itself critically and analytically. It is human nature to blame others for our failings. We saw this ever so clearly in our national response to the 9/11 attacks. Then stunned and angry, we were unwilling to consider that perhaps it was a half-century of American arrogance and bullying in the Middle East which had finally resulted in the 9/11 “blowback.” It was much easier to accept George W. Bush’s fatuous palliatives: “They hate us because we are free.”
Elected officials are not soothsayers, despite the claims of some that they are doing God’s will. No, politicians seek votes. True moral leadership and renewal requires something much rarer. It requires honesty and self-awareness.
These are traits that we do not see much of in black political leadership today. Indeed, the issue of family breakdown and crime is usually demagogued by black political leaders, as we have seen in the matter of the Gadsden Green families.
But there is black leadership out there — it’s just not coming from political ranks. Locally, I can point to the Citizens Patrol Against Drugs, a group of men — mostly black — who come together periodically to walk the streets of North Charleston at night, offering support to residents in drug-infested neighborhoods, and to let the dealers and other criminals know they are not welcome and they are being observed. It is material proof that there are men who care and who take responsibility in their community. CPAD has been so effective that Tony Levine, its organizer, was recently named North Charleston’s Citizen of the Year.
Nationally, I can think of a couple of bright spots. Last year Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Leonard Pitts launched a series of columns (most of which have run in The Post and Courier) called “What Works.” (See www.leonardpitts.com.) Each column is a look at some school, some program, some individual who is changing the lives of young black Americans, keeping them off the street, out of jail, and in school.
Among his recommendations:
• Single-gender education
• Teaching respect and responsibility
• Personal tutoring and field trips
• Communities in Schools, a national dropout prevention program
• A longer school day and year with higher expectations
• More money for good teachers — and getting rid of bad teachers
There’s no magic bullet, Pitts tells us. It’s a matter of finding what works and stopping what demonstrably does not work.
Bill Cosby built a long career on making people laugh. Today Cosby is serious — and nobody is laughing. He’s pushing his new book, co-authored with Harvard psychiatrist Alvin Pouissant, Come On, People: On the Path from Victims to Victors.
In it he calls for many changes, but most importantly, he calls for black men to form families and to take responsibility for their children. Along the way he has been criticized by some black leaders for changing the subject from “white oppression” to black responsibility. That’s the price courageous people must always pay.
Of course, none of this diminishes the responsibility of white leaders in this state and elsewhere to provide decent education, job training, recreational facilities, and other basic benefits for young people. Responsibility is the key, and there’s precious little of it to be found in this age.
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