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Black youth in Peril
By Ashahed M. Muhammad
Assistant Editor
Updated Apr 23, 2008 - 11:57:00 PM

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Many challenges face Black youngsters, but violence may be most difficult

CHICAGO (FinalCall.com) - A day devoted to teacher training almost turned deadly for a 15-year-old boy, who was seriously wounded April 11 by a bullet when schools were closed. The youngster was an innocent victim of a turf war in a public housing development.

High school students demonstrate their opposition to gun-violence at a rally on April 1, in Chicago. Photos: Kenneth Muhammad
The American society celebrates violence, however, there is an expectation that Black youth should miraculously emerge out of a world that is pervasively violent in some angelic form. Despite our disapproval, Black youth, like all other Americansessentially empower themselves by their acts of aggression and violence.
Dr. Harry R. Davidson

Twenty-three Chicago public school students have died this year, some in altercations in school parking lots or near places that should be safe havens. Others have died on city streets.

“Guns are accessible. Kids know where to get guns every day. What kind of crazy inhumane society do we live in today and we call it civilized America? It’s craziness,” said Father Michael Pfleger, of St. Sabina Catholic Church, a frequent and outspoken anti-gun activist. The “gun culture” of America and easy access to firearms are problems, but the lack of respect for human life is another key cause of deaths, he said.

“We live in a violent nation where war is something you see on television every day that’s part of it—but guess what—I still have to make a personal decision not to kill somebody,” Father Pfleger said.

“Everything that stands out throughout America and its history consciously or subconsciously programs Black youth that violence is the source of achievement, and the ultimate source of power. Black kids who spend any time in school are introduced to America’s history of ‘noble conquests.’ Europeans visited America, decided they wanted it and took it. America has subsequently used war and violence to achieve a power position throughout the world,” said Dr. Harry R. Davidson, an author and psychologist who has conducted extensive research into the effect of negative images of Black males.

“The American society celebrates violence, however, there is an expectation that Black youth should miraculously emerge out of a world that is pervasively violent in some angelic form. Despite our disapproval, Black youth, like all other Americans—essentially empower themselves by their acts of aggression and violence,” he said.

Phil Jackson, of the Black Star Project in Chicago, sees failing schools, an abundance of jails and media images that promote the destruction of Black boys. “Worst of all is the passivity, the lack of urgency, the disengagement of the Black community as our sons are being destroyed,” said Mr. Jackson, who wore a yellow sweatshirt emblazoned with the slogan, “Educate or Die,” to an April 11 event held to recruit Black youth into preventive programming. He points to a movie by rapper 50 Cent as an example of society planting seeds of self-destruction. In “Get Rich, Or Die Tryin,’ ” 25 Black and Latino boys were shot in the head, heart, back and nobody went to jail, Mr. Jackson noted. It was open season and the movie was teaching that if you kill another young Black man nothing will happen, he said.

What’s going on?

What is the cause of all of this murder and mayhem surrounding Black youth? Is this a coincidence or is it by design? A root cause of the problem is the deliberate failure of government to correct conditions among Black people that were created by 400 plus years of servitude slavery. This knowing and willful neglect has resulted in a poor self-concept, a lack of economic opportunities, limited educational opportunities, as well as the worldwide portrayal of the Black male in the image of a violent thug. All of this works to prevent formation of a youth revolutionary force working for the best interest of their community.

A young student shows opposition to guns.
The perilous conditions facing today’s Black young people prompted the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan to ask the question, “What is going on?” during his Saviours’ Day 2008 message titled “The Gods at War: The Future is All About Y.O.U.th.”

Minister Farrakhan has been a consistent voice of warning and a reminder. Over 20 years ago, he went on a speaking tour called “Stop the Killing” and his record regarding intervention in disputes between warring street organizations—and even beefs within warring factions in hip-hop—is unmatched. Minister Farrakhan also called for the 1995 Million Man March in order to correct the image of the Black male, which had been beamed across the world in films as a menace to civilized society, setting the stage for our young Black men to be eliminated. He has warned Black on Black killing must end or those involved in the killing will meet severe consequences—at God’s hands. During his 2007 lecture series titled “Justifiable Homicide,” Minister Farrakhan addressed a mother who lost her son to senseless gang violence.

“When a young one dies, it grieves us especially, but I want you to know—that life was not taken in vain,” said Minister Farrakhan. “This is a mother aching because some young Black brother in a gang conflict with the mind and mark of a beast shot a gun and an innocent child died. This is why all of this violence and all of this blood shedding among us has to stop, because if you don’t, God is going to release the number one killer—which is the former slave master’s children—on us. … This is coming to (Chicago’s) south side and the west side, in Harlem, Brooklyn and Watts, but you will have earned it if you don’t stop this bloodletting insanity now!”

The Justice Department reported in 2005, the homicide rates for Black males 18-25 were just over 102 per 100,000, and only 12.5 deaths per 100,000 for their White counterparts. For Black males 14-17, the homicide rate was 26.4 per 100,000, and only 4.4 for White male teens. Black females ages 14-17 the homicide rate 4.0 per 100,000 and Black females 17-24 the homicide rate was 11.3 per 100,000.

Violence isn’t the only challenge Black youth face:

• An April report by non-profit America’s Promise Alliance found 17 of America’s 50 largest cities had high school graduation rates lower than 50 percent. Only 28 percent of Black male students in Detroit, 26 percent in New York, and just over 30 percent in Chicago will graduate high school, Mr. Jackson, of the Black Star Project, noted.

• The majority of Black male students in the United States do not graduate from high school.

• Almost half of Black girls had at least one sexually transmitted disease, according to a study released by the Centers for Disease Control. Teens were tested for human papillomavirus (HPV), chlamydia, trichomoniasis and herpes. AIDS infection rates are also higher for Black youth.

• The rate of Black suicide for teens 15-19 more than doubled from 3.6 per 100,000 to 8.1 per 100,000 from 1980-1995. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among Black youth.

• One-third of Black children are in poverty and Black children are more likely to fall out of the middle class. In Washington, D.C, an estimated 85 percent of Black girls live in poverty.

• In 2007, only about 20 percent of Black teens nationally had jobs.

• A Black boy born in 2001 had a 1 in 3 chance of going to prison in his lifetime.

• Just 9 percent of D.C. students make it through both high school and college.

• Infant mortality for Blacks is more than twice the rate for Whites.

• Just 34.6 percent of Black children lived in a two-parent household in 2006.

Earlier this year, Marian Wright Edelman, of the Children’s Defense Fund, harshly criticized President Bush for putting forward a budget that cut programs that were beneficial to children. “In the richest nation on earth it is unacceptable for millions of children to suffer from poverty and hunger, lack of health coverage, low-quality education, and a juvenile justice system that each year puts thousands of youth at risk of being funneled down a pipeline to prison,” she said.

Ms. Wright Edelman blasted Mr. Bush for pushing permanent tax cuts for the wealthy and higher military spending “while nearly 13 million children live in poverty and 9.4 million children are without health coverage.”

Dr. Alvin Poussaint, an author and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, said stressors Blacks face push many over the edge. Depression, incarceration, and school drop out are some of the things that can lead youth, in particular males, to take their own lives and even commit suicide-by-homicide, he said. Dr. Poussaint called his brother a victim of “slow suicide,” a downward, drug-plagued, self-destructive path that resulted in death.

“Oftentimes with young kids they don’t really understand what they’re going through. They don’t get that they are suffering from depression. It’s important for us to educate communities and educate parents so they will know and help their children through these periods they’re going through,” said Donna Barnes, president and co-founder of the National Organization for People of Color Against Suicide, who with Dr. Poussaint was a guest on NPR’s News and Notes program. Her son took his life in 1990, during a period in which suicide rates increased among young Black males.

Dr. Davidson agreed with that analysis and added another component leading to high rates of Black youth violence and death.

“Moreso than any other group Black youth experience an emotional and psychological void that results from their alien condition in America. Certainly, the absence of the Black male is a part of the creation of their sense of alienation, their lack of positive self esteem. In addition, the absence of any significantly positive Black images or references as a part of their so-called educational experience, or reflected in the media, or anywhere in their homes or communities all contributes to a profound sense of alienation,” said Dr. Davidson.

The plague of violence in inner-cities

After several teenagers were gunned down by other teenagers in the Chicago area, a large rally was held on April 1, with students from several city high schools speaking out against violence and calling for more stringent gun laws. Father Pfleger and others have called it a “state of emergency.” Solutions ranged from calls for tougher law enforcement and stiffer penalties for gang crimes, especially in schools, to calls for more prevention programs, jobs to counter the lure of the drug trade, and gun-buyback programs to get weapons off the streets.

Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich told The Final Call changes in federal gun laws are needed as is power to break the grip a powerful gun lobby has on Congress and the White House. “If this was a benevolent dictatorship with me as the benevolent dictator, we would have all kinds of laws on the books that would abandon all of these things, including the fact that we would be hammering those gun shops and the gun manufacturers who are making these weapons of mass destruction and taking the lives of children and the lives of honest people away,” said Gov. Blagojevich.

“In a way I do (feel safe) and in a way I don’t. I’m safe because I’m always looking after myself,” said Malcolm Junious, a 17-year-old senior at Crane High School. His friend was killed in a shooting outside the school. Almost for no reason, anything can “jump off” with youth trying to impress others or just show how tough they are, he said.

Interventionists with innovative ideas are working hard to make peace: Enoch Muhammad, of “Hip Hop Detoxx” conducted an anti-violence session for close to 200 students at Crane High School. Ceasefire, an anti-violence group, uses ex-offenders to reach out to gang members to intervene and resolve conflict. Its funding, however, was gutted by the Illinois governor this year.

“There is a silent war going on in the streets and young brothers need serious people to reach out to them. Not fakers or people scared of them,” said David Square, who has worked with Black youth at risk for gang involvement and violence for 13 years. His group, Project Gang Peace, operates in Houston, where he has worked to forge gang truces. Mr. Square, a former gang leader, is from Chicago.

Children as young as 10 and 11 are being initiated into gangs, he said.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley recently announced sociologists from the University of Chicago would interview victims, offenders and parents in an attempt to identify the root causes of youth violence, with hopes of embarking on new prevention strategies.

Father Pfleger plans to keep fighting for “common sense” state gun laws and believes schools and churches must do more. “There are 5,000 to 6,000 churches in Chicago. If every church offered one program, kids would be wondering which program to go to. The pastors, the educators, the community, the parents we are all responsible,” said Father Pfleger.

About 500,000 students attend Chicago Public Schools and school CEO Arne Duncan said experiments with keeping schools open later and after school programs in some hard hit areas are being tried. Some critics say the city school closings and an effort to revamp schools contribute to the problem by pushing youth into areas where conflicts are fueled by gang rivalry and neighborhood tribalism.

Alderman Latasha Thomas was at the early April anti-violence rally and was encouraged by youth who participated and called for an end to violence. “We are losing our future, literally,” said Ald. Thomas. “I have a teenage son, I’m afraid for him. They shouldn’t have to go to school and worry about safety, they need to be in an environment where they feel comfortable and be able to walk out of that environment and still be comfortable.”

At Saviours’ Day 2008, Minister Farrakhan pointed out the great challenge ahead of this generation of youth, warning them not to think less of themselves because of the way they are portrayed.

“Young people, you are the instrument that God is going to use to bring about universal change,” said Minister Farrakhan.


 


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