As much as I’m critical of some young African-American male’s behavior in the wake of the Michael Brown killing, I understand where the violence comes from.
There was a time when a young man coming of age actually meant that something good was going to happen. It was a time of unfulfilled and expectant joy in his life. It meant that before him was a period of wide open promise where the world was his oyster and the pearl, although maybe not that obvious was nevertheless there somewhere for his picking.
But for black or brown men today, such joy is hard to imagine. They look around their communities and they see almost nowhere where there is an example of African-American empowerment. They don’t see many examples of black businesses or the upward mobility associated with a successful home-grown commerce culture that they feel they’ll be able to assimilate into and profit from.
Instead, the only upward mobility they see within their own neighborhoods is that of individuals who weren’t even born there. They see them coming from afar to make money at their expense, sometimes while not even taking the time to understand, appreciate or engage even the community whose meager wealth they seek to exploit.
That all teenagers and young people experience degrees of angst and disillusionment with the path of their lives is very apparent and can’t be denied but equally so is the fact that young men of color are ill-prepared to deal with such difficulties as those adversities are compounded by economic hardship, poor public school education and lack of African-American community engagement on the part of law enforcement, state government and other community leaders.
Michael Brown had successfully navigated his childhood-no easy feat for a young black man in inner city America-and was about to embark on a new beginning in his life. But instead of wiling his summer months away meditating on his future, planning his upcoming classes and in general thinking just what his admission to college meant for the remainder of his life, he was possibly committing a petty crime; one that ultimately cost him dearly.
I say “possibly” because I’m still hoping against hope that it’s not him in the released video and that the true strong-arm/shoplifting culprit will come forward.
However, if it is him in the video then, unfortunately, it is what it is and the black community will have to deal with that bit of hard truth. But more so, it proves my point that somewhere along the line, young men of color aren’t even looking at opportunity correctly when it’s being given to them; that in fact, they’re not properly trained to do so.
Moving forward, these young men must have a plan of action for survival in America at their disposal. Right now, they don’t and we continually see the result of this lack of preparation.
“I won’t live to be…”
First thing that’s needed is that they shed this fatalistic notion that their life is suspect, ultimately worthless and about to come to an end at any given moment. It needs to be reinforced that, like all young people, their whole existence is just ahead of them and that the success of that existence begins and ends with them.
“Remember, where you are does not define where you are going.”
Once that’s ingrained then we give them the tools necessary that will allow them to easily navigate these mean and dangerous streets of the communities they live in.
It’s not a new tool kit; in fact, it’s the same one I was taught to use as a young man growing up. Make no mistake; police brutality has always been around and the means with which to fight it hasn’t changed that much over the years.
The same instruments used in the past in the face of bigoted aggression-empathy, education, confidence, respect, kindness and responsibility-are the same ones that today will allow men of color to win this battle of sanctioned aggression that’s being waged against them.
And, it’s not overly hard to learn how to wield them either. The necessary first step in the learning process is to begin by respecting yourself followed then by having a real desire to change the dynamic of your life. Once those two things are accomplished then the rest will take care of itself.