By John Horton
Based on FBI crime data, Norfolk is one of the most unsafe communities in America. Relative to Virginia, Norfolk has a crime rate that is higher than 96% of the state’s cities and towns of all sizes. Moreover, the rate of crime in Norfolk is 26.79 per 1,000 residents during a standard year. Overall, Hampton Roads’ 2021 homicide rates for the number of killings per 100,000 people were: 35.8 in Portsmouth; 25.6 in Norfolk; 24.1 in Hampton; 16.6 in Newport News; 10.4 in Chesapeake; 6.4 in Suffolk; and 3.3 in Virginia Beach.
In recent years, the homicide rates in Norfolk have steadily increased: 61 homicides in 2021; 50 homicides in 2020; and 37 homicides in 2019. And, the overwhelming majority of these homicides have been “Black on Black” crimes. In recent days/weeks for 2022, the homicides rates have increased even more than in the previous yearly cycles.
Being an 81-year-old Black male, my heart aches and my mind is troubled every day of my existence. This is because I see so many of our youths, especially Black males, who have gone astray and/or who have no future in terms of achievement and success.
On almost a daily basis, I see those who are profoundly alienated and experiencing a sense of powerlessness and hopelessness. They do not feel wanted or needed in today’s or tomorrow’s society – at least not as a positive force and/or contributing factor. These youths feel as if they are society’s lost cause – its scapegoat. As a result, they feel no connection, no investment, no ownership, or no partnership in their community and society at large.
These youths display a profound lack of self-esteem and self-control. They show an abundance of anger, boredom, disrespect and frustration. There is a lack of pride, respect for self and others, enthusiasm and optimism. They lack a sense of direction and purpose. They lack goals and priorities. And, to quote an old adage, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else.”
To overcome these societal barriers and in-house obstacles, we must teach our young Black males the values of self-discipline, personal pride, and designated priorities. As Black men, we need to heed the sage words of William E. Henley’s “Invictus”: “My head is bloody, but unbowed. I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” Indeed, the time has come for Black men, especially fathers and elders, to accept collective responsibility for making positive changes happen and for bringing about transformative realities among our youths, families and communities.
It has been said that the “losers” of history and the “victims” of society never get a fair chance to tell their sides of the story of life. In our inner cities, there is an unrelenting story and debilitating tragedy taking place. It is punctuated with alienation, frustration, anger, hopelessness and powerlessness. It is taking place among society’s young and endangered Black males.
While most media concentrate on the “angry white males” and “extremist elements,” the “outraged Black males” of inner cities have been left to dry up like raisins in the sun. These young Black males are in the most urgent need of assistance. They are the ones who are caught up in the web of what I call the “Four Strike syndrome”: (1) inadequate literacy skills; (2) constant unemployment; (3) ongoing criminal activity; and/or (4) sustained substance abuse.
There are too many shattered dreams, broken promises and hopeless futures in their midst. Therefore, they seek out and do the things they think they are good at – too often, in the counterculture of drugs, crime and negativity. This is how they make it in today’s society. This is their piece of the American pie. This negative lifestyle becomes a means of support, a viable existence and a sense of accomplishment. It provides them with an income, group recognition and a feeling of self-worth.
The two foremost obstacles for us to overcome in this battle to save these particular youths are their lack of: (1) self-discipline and personal priorities, and (2) education and job skills.
First, we must somehow get these disenchanted youths to believe that sound choices and hard work will bring them personal, familial and professional success. They must be made to understand that they are important to our overall society and are a part of our national future. They need to become imbued with the undeniable reality of life: “If it is to be, it is up to me!” These disillusioned youth need to be encourages to perform and achieve at their maximum potential. Most of all, there should be an understanding that this challenging and complicated task cannot be easily or quickly accomplished, but it can be done.
Second, we need to provide what these youths lack: meaningful education and worthwhile jobs. A meaningful education is the steppingstone to competence and excellence. A worthwhile job is the steppingstone to independence and ownership. Either we pay for this empowerment process now, or we pay for societal neglect and decay later. Unlike too many times before, there must be absolute proof that the patient has gotten better. For example, we can measure literacy and education improvement, employment and income enhancement, criminal inactivity and abstinence from drugs, personal and familial betterment, and other similar issues of importance that face these youths and the society at large.
We as a nation must strive to overcome poverty, racial divide, political inequity and social deprivation. We must understand that this is not necessarily a Black problem, but a national one. To help resolve the dilemma before us, we will need all the advice, assistance and advocacy that we can muster. To quote an old adage, “None of us is as smart as all of us.” In the final analysis, let us not blow the opportunity to do what is right for all of America’s citizens. Simply stated, this can and must be done. We must continue to work “harder, longer, stronger, tougher and smarter” to get the job done…for all of us. This, we can do! This, we must do! For, I emphatically believe, as Nelson Mandela so eloquently espoused, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way it treats its children.”
John Horton is a resident of Norfolk, Va.