In my most recent article, I called for an Emergency Summit on Youth Violence and Fratricide to address this malignant plague in Black America. It is important to note that not every young Black person is engaged in, or affected by, the destructive behavior unfolding in marginalized Black communities across the country. Indeed, millions of Black youth and students are doing just fine, staying out of trouble, graduating from high schools and colleges and making their way into the mainstream of life in the Black community and the larger society. It is a minority of Black youth/students/young people, largely in marginalized Black communities, who have lost their way in a nation where structural-institutional racism and oppression kill the dreams and aspirations of human beings. Make no mistake about it; however, there is no hiding place from the cancer decimating marginalized Black communities. In one way or another, Blacks who have escaped America’s “dark ghettos” as well as members of other ethnicities and nationalities will ultimately pay the price for the shameful abandonment and neglect of those locked out and left out in this nation.
As I suggested in my previous article, both external and internal prescriptions will be necessary to heal marginalized communities and the youth/young people struggling to survive within them. However, the kind of destructive behavior that has become commonplace and accepted by many of our youth will require something more than ordinary anti-violence programs, education and jobs. What we are witnessing is the consequence of a loss of “historical memory” of who we are as people of African descent and the legacy of trials, tribulations and triumphs of mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, our forebears. Fannie Lou Hamer once said, “Always remember where we came from and honor the bridges that brought us over.”
Far too many Blacks in this generation, adults and youth, have only a faint recollection of the history and culture of African people, the legacy of struggle and resistance, values, customs and traditions – “the bridges that brought us over.” While the impact of institutional/structural racism on our people cannot be denied, its most insidious affect has been robbing our people of a positive/affirmative sense of self and kind. We can readily dismiss and destroy each other because we have internalized the racist premise that to be Black is less than human. People who look like us are nothing!
Dr. Maulana Karenga, the creator of the Nguzo Saba and Kwanzaa and one of the seminal thinkers of our time has repeatedly warned/admonished us that the “key crisis in Black life is the cultural crisis.” If we are unaware of or refuse to embrace our own culture, the “stuff that makes a people stick,” as I often teach it, our people will forever be disoriented, disorganized and potentially self-destructive. Heeding Dr. Karenga’s proposition, I am convinced that any strategy, program or initiative to combat the epidemic of youth violence and fratricide must include a healthy dose of Black history and culture as a corrective. Nothing short of what my friend Dr. Ramona Edelin has called a “Cultural Offensive” is required to rescue America’s endangered Black youth.
While other methods of encouraging Black youth to stop the violence and aspire to “be somebody” might work, a Cultural Offensive will have the affect of instilling a sense of love for self, family and the need to be “of the race and for the race.” We want to stop the violence and fratricide by having those who are currently caught in the grips of pathology; negativism and nihilism embrace themselves as positive, proud and productive members of the African family. Indeed, in the face of the myth of a “post racial society,” all of Black America could reap positive benefits from a Cultural Offensive.
At the center/core of the Cultural Offensive must be African-centered education. We must know and our children/young people must know the history of who we are as the first human beings on this planet and the source of life and civilizing influences for all of humankind. Our young people must know about the holocaust of enslavement and the heroic resistance against our captors. They must know about the de-Africanization and dehumanization of our people under America’s system of chattel slavery. They must be made aware of the amazing resistance of heroes and sheroes who rebelled against enslavement. They must hear the stories of a people who made a way out of no way to create new African communities out of disparate ethnicities in the face of apartheid, violence, lynching and police occupation/terror. They need to hear the voices of the Elders in their families rendering testimonies and giving oral histories about how we survived and made it over!
We are in a struggle for the minds, hearts and souls of endangered youth/young people in marginalized and abandoned Black communities across this country. Therefore, to be effective, the Cultural Offensive must be adopted by the broadest array of institutions and organizations in our communities – churches, fraternities, sororities, business and professional associations, community based organizations, community centers – all segments of Black America must be engaged in this Offensive. We need to fight to have African-centered courses be part of the curriculum in every school where Black students are a majority or sizeable minority. Simultaneously, we must encourage churches and community centers to have after-school and Saturday school programs where African-centered instruction is integral to the teaching of reading, math and science. I would also like to see substantial engagement by the cultural-artistic community. Perhaps, Wyclef Jean and Quincy Jones hook-up to do a “We Are the World” type stop the violence, save the youth rendition. The Cultural Offensive must be inclusive, comprehensive and relentless. Failure is not an option.
By now, some of my readers are saying none of this is new. That’s correct. It has all been said before. What I have elected to do at a moment of accentuated crisis is to restate with urgency prescriptions and remedies which are all too familiar. The problem is not what we know will work to overcome the crisis. It is whether we have the resolve to act on what we know. We must act now or watch a significant segment of this generation’s young people perish. Our ancestors will not be pleased!
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. He is the host of Night Talk, Wednesday evenings on WBAI 99.5 FM, Pacifica New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website and www.northstarnews.com. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.