On the eve of what would have been Dr. King’s 83rd birthday, I sit in reflection, an amalgamation of both frustration and hopefulness. The frustration comes from being acutely aware that we are in the process of losing an entire generation of black males, despite who sits in the White House. There are more black males in prison today than were enslaved in 1850. There are more black males in prison than in college. Our school systems are failing our children, but children and families are being told that they are failing themselves. I know of a charter school in Queens that is being closed for being “mediocre” even though they outperformed 9 of the 10 schools in the area. And now the majority of the 350 black and brown families being displaced will be forced to attend those same schools. (Opinions vary on charter schools, and everyone can decide whether to support or not support the movement, but by any standard closing an improving school and then sending children to less successful schools is deranged.) Our children are becoming obese at younger and younger ages. Our black males are growing up with fewer black male role models. Our black and brown male counterparts in the Hispanic community are faring better, but not by much.
My hopefulness stems from my unshakable belief in the human spirit and the fact that an overwhelming majority of people when faced with the choice will always opt to do the right thing. Dr. King pissed people off and upset the status quo until the day he died. But the only reason he felt even the smallest bit of confidence that he could be successful in his efforts was because he knew that most people were good. He knew that human decency will always win out over human baseness. People, white and black, have been unable to stand idly by as a generation of black males disintegrates. They have made the choice to do the right thing. The super wealthy are donating tens of millions of dollars to support black and Hispanic male initiatives from coast to coast. The grassroots advocates are using their voices and energy to ensure that the destruction of males of color, one of the great catastrophes of our time, stays at the forefront of the public discourse. The ball is rolling, that much is certain.
I know that some people are arguing that we are now in a post racial era in the U.S. As a writer and advocate I believe people are entitled to their opinions. But if these same folk take a moment to turn off their cable news channels, shut down their computers and hit the streets of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Alabama, Texas and pretty much any other state with a notable black population they will see that the post racial society that they speak of is an idea that may be worth aiming for, but it is not an ideal that is in place. And while I am a firm believer in taking responsibility for ones actions and making the right choices in life whenever possible, black males who live in poverty and under the threat of violence each day need a little help in understanding what choices they have because often their parents don’t know themselves.
We must be willing to speak out against injustice wherever there is any. Times have indeed changed, but the need for advocacy still exists.