Universal Greetings with Respect,
It would be a travesty of justice to approach the subject of At-Risk Youth without addressing how people of color are affected since the largest number of At-Risk Youth are of color. Three primary areas of concern are:
- Our higher rate of incarceration, from juvenile to state penitentiaries, compared to our white counterparts.
- Our limited access to affordable and quality health care.
- The lack of appropriate pay for qualified teachers to work in economically deprived areas with our at-risk youth–the “shadow kids.”
I am aware that it is impossible for a single person to speak to all of the opinions, experiences and ideologies of a race of people however, is my desire to express as much as I am able based upon my exposure.
As a Black man living in America it is obvious that I (We) are attending way too many funerals of our youth. Yet there is a greater number of youth who are physically alive according to medical sources, but to those of us who know them, we know that they are dying–spiritually, intellectually and emotionally due to the infestation of negativity and mis-education. We have some of the most physically overweight and unhealthy people in some of the most economically deprived communities (“When you control a man’s thinking you don’t have to control his actions.”–Carter Woodson) and those numbers are growing exponentially.
As a member of the group known as African Americans, we are a very resilient people with unlimited potential who possess a rich culture. We exist on the shoulders of giants such as Shaka Zulu, Marcus Garvey, Harriet Tubman, Fannie Lou Hamer, Martin Luther King Jr., El Hajj Malik Shabazz and multitudes more whose names we don’t know and whose history we have not studied, excluding minimal discussions which are condoned during the so-called Black History month.
However, in spite of all things considered, many fighters for our at-risk youth become co-opted and silenced by the need to keep insurance, pay mortgages, car notes, win friends and influence people. It is not popular to be race-specific in our empowerment and teaching methods, although the disproportion in our detention centers, alternative schools and among at-risk youth is, race-specific. In attempts to be politically correct, all inclusive and non-offensive, we have watered downed, generalized and broad-brushed our approach to where the core of the message, if still present at all, is having little effect.
We have developed individual wealth and collective poverty. We have spread throughout the Diaspora and become disconnected in our own homes. In communities of color, the definition of success has been too often defined by material possessions over quality of life; excessive alcohol consumption under the illusion of living the good life; a pervasion of music in our community that denigrates our women and causes our sense of brotherhood among males to be degenerated into a hatred of self and kind. Then we, as adults, award and reward the musical artist with top ratings, air play, movie deals and unsupervised time with our children, in the name of freedom. The results of this mentality are displayed in the local newspapers, evening news and our local funeral homes.
The good news is although this is not an easy task we, as individuals and as a nation, have overcome monumental challenges in our past and present when our cause was more critical than the consequences that we would face. The result is that many one time at-risk youth have turned out successful in spite of all the challenges.
We must work to close the generational divide. Effective education must include the parents or whoever are their caregivers. What harvester would complain of the fruit without ever giving attention to the tree? Also we don’t have to be a part of an organization to get started moving towards adjusting the mindset (even though that helps). We can begin in our homes, in our classrooms, and within our own circle of influence. We need a paradigm shift. Of course this has to first begin with us.
All we need are three things:
- A sincere desire to change the current situation. (Of course you have to realize that whatever effects one of us directly affects us all indirectly.)
- The willingness to make a plan and follow it. (This cannot be a quick fix, microwave or sprint-like approach. This is a slow-cooker, a marathon, a lifetime change.) And,
- The willingness to put in the required work. (It ain’t over till it’s over!)
“The Way of R.E.S.P.E.C.T.” encourages and promotes an approach of:
- Remembering your ancestors, to close the gap between generations.
- Elevating your understanding of yourself, your students and the challenges that both face.
- Staying Strong and Staying Ready–physically, spiritually, emotionally and intellectually.
- Pursuing your dreams with passion (finding what matters not just what works).
- Encouraging each other; creating a support system.
- Creating opportunities for success instead of waiting for opportunities to knock at the door.
- Then teaching others what you know. It becomes stronger the more you share it.
For my brothers and sisters of color and all those who work with children and families of color, I share this quote from Marcus Garvey: “Others have had the advantage of organization for centuries, so what seems to them unnecessary, from a racial point of view, becomes necessary to us, who have had to labor all along under the disadvantage of being scattered without a racial aim or purpose.”
“Until lions tell their tale, the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”
Marcus “Dr. Respect” Gentry