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Local Voices: Empowering Black Youth, Families and Communities: If It Is to Be, It Is Up to Me (Us)!

“We realize that our future lies chiefly in our own hands. We know that neither institution nor friends can make a race stand unless it has strength in its own foundation; that races like individuals must stand or fall by their own merit; that to fully succeed they must practice the virtues of self-reliance, self-respect, industry, perseverance, and economy.” (Paul Robeson)

As a 76-year-old Black male, I believe myself to be an “Elder of the Village.” In that regard, I put forth the following ideas, thoughts and (possible) solutions to an “ongoing village crisis” that is threatening and debilitating to our community-society at large.

With the recent rash and upsurge of primarily Black youth violence (assaults, shootings, killings, etc.), something needs to be done … now … immediately. Locally and regionally (Norfolk, Portsmouth, Hampton, Suffolk, Newport News, Franklin, Richmond, etc.), we have too much of this dysfunction and deterioration happening in some of our (at risk and disadvantaged) communities. As everyone knows, this is also a national problem (Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, Newark, Atlanta, Miami, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C, etc.) This chaos and disaster cannot be allowed to exist in our (civilized) midst. These perpetrators and instigators are a danger to themselves and to the society at large. They are profoundly at risk and/or endangered, especially as measured by everyone else’s status, situation and surroundings.

Unfortunately, these dire circumstances reveal that these Black men continue to be disproportionately incarcerated, inadequately educated and insufficiently employed, among other things. These particular Black youth continue to be debilitated by criminal activity, substance abuse, sexual irresponsibility, and poor health habits, overall. Saliently put, this represents a bleak futuristic outlook for too many of our young Black males.

Despite this bleak outlook, I sincerely believe these particular youth can be empowered and uplifted. However, they must believe in the truism, “If it is to be, it is up to me!” They must exert a willingness and enthusiasm to be(come) all that they can. They need to understand the required discipline and sacrifices are well worth the eventual benefits and rewards. A spirit of “can do” and “will do” is required of them. Otherwise, these youth need to understand that failure to have a “life’s plan” will bring them shattered dreams, broken promises and hopeless futures.

We must get our young Black males to understand that they are worthy and capable of accomplishing much success in life. They must understand that daily behavior and good habits determine one’s eventual outcome in life. And, most importantly, they must become imbued with “respect,” for if you respect yourself, people will honor who you are; if you disrespect yourself, people will wonder what you are. This is all achievable … not easy, but achievable. It can be done. And, we must do this for our young Black males (and ourselves).

More poignantly, these youth need to understand that real manhood and true fatherhood are the grass roots and bedrock of family, community, survival, and destiny. It should be understood manhood and fatherhood are intelligence, competence, responsibility commitment, investment, ownership, and empowerment; manhood and fatherhood are head, heart and guts – all located above the waistline; manhood and fatherhood are respecting and protecting your young, your elderly, your family, and your community.

Our young Black males have to show a willingness to know something, to be smart, to be curious, and to be willing to learn and accomplish a lot more. While the world they inhabit may not be all fair or just, they must be willing to try. They must learn to give life their all. They must be willing to be “chance-takers” and “opportunity-seekers.”

Somehow we must get these disenchanted youth to believe that sound choices and hard work will bring them personal, familial and professional success.. They must be made to understand they are important to our overall society and are a positive force in our national future.

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All of this will require lots of hard work and smart work. To be sure, it is an awesome struggle that lies before these youth; however, nothing worthwhile is ever accomplished or gained without a struggle. As Malcolm X so eloquently stated: “To help yourself, you must respect yourself, educate yourself. Attachment to drugs, alcohol, sexual promiscuity, material goods, and short-term rewards are just a new form of slavery. Liberation comes with health, education, responsibility, financial independence, family stability, and community service …”

Basically, it will require a grass roots approach for empowering young African-American males. In its beginnings this needs to be an in-house and self-help movement. To paraphrase Paul Robeson, “You cannot expect someone else to do those things for you that you should do for yourself.” Frederick Douglass puts it even more saliently, “A man may not get all that he pays for, but he must certainly pay for all that he gets.”

Accordingly, these disillusioned youth need to be encouraged to perform and achieve at their maximum potential. They need to have a more comprehensive understanding of the “forces and realities” that frustrate and debilitate them. While many of these “obstacles” are challenging and complex, they can be overcome.

In summary, I profoundly believe our young African-American males are brave enough, strong enough, determined enough, and smart enough to get the job done. All they need to be successful are their “roots of responsibility” and “wings of wonderment.” Speaking saliently and succinctly: If it is to be, it is up to me (us)! Enough said. Let them (and us) now do what needs to be done.

John L. Horton resides in Norfolk and is a frequent contributor to this newspaper.

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