Wednesday, December 19, 2007

From One War Zone To Another

This is the story of a mother who had to make the desperate choice of sending her son from one war zone (the mean streets of America) to another war zone (the streets of Liberia) in order to try and save his life. It is the choice no mother should ever have to make, but unfortunately it is a choice many black mothers have had to make over the years. Maybe it wasn’t the civil war of Liberia, but it could have been Vietnam, Afghanistan, or Iraq. Many a black parent has sent a child off to war so they might escape the killing fields of urban America.

She had made up the lies that coaxed him on the plane, and arranged for her brother to take him into his household. She did this knowing much of what her Americanized son would face there: the empty belly, the threat of public whippings, the cramped sense of possibility.

Yet she was equally sure of this: He would be better off there than in Park Hill, the Staten Island neighborhood where she was bringing up two sons and two daughters.

Augustus had been well schooled in the lessons of Park Hill, which has taken in so many waves of refugees over the last 30 years that it is known in some quarters as Little Liberia. By his teenage years, he had adopted a street name (Ghostface) and a gang affiliation (Bloodline) and learned how drugs coursed through the neighborhood into the hands of customers.[1]

It is frightening to believe that a young black man is safer in a civil war in a foreign country than he is at home in America. He is, if that home happens to be in the gang and drug infested streets of the inner city. Our cities are turning into war zones pitting one young black man against another for the limited resources that the drug trade has created. Young men are risking their freedom and their lives to live a lifestyle of false promise and false bravado, leaving their mothers to worry and mourn their early departures. Departures usually brought about by the hand of another black man.

This story highlights the growing disconnect occurring between the youth and the adults of our communities. There is a divergence between the goals and aspirations of the parents and the “reality” of the streets beckoning their sons. For many young black men the streets are offering a better alternative to the hard won lessons of their parents. They watch as their single mothers struggle to make ends meet with the low wage jobs they are forced to take, while at the same time they see the fast money and lifestyle being offered by gangs and the streets. They struggle in an educational system that doesn’t want them and a support system that doesn’t exist. Due to a lack of male guidance they grow up with a distorted sense of manhood and the responsibilities that it brings. They love and at the same time detest their mothers for the lives they have been given.

What does this say about us as a society, that we are willing to let another generation of young black men die or be imprisoned without any effort to integrate them into society? I find it hard to believe that with all of the intellectuals and studies that have been done, we can’t solve this. So the question then becomes, do we want to solve it? For years we read and see story after story of the untimely death of another black youth at the hands of another black youth and yet we do nothing. We can provide hundreds of billions of dollars to destroy a country and yet we can’t find any money to help build our own country? These young men are the by-product of our neglect and of a system that does not value their talents or their imaginations. They are the forgotten children of black men who did not understand or accept that being a father is more than being a “baby’s daddy”, black men who have by the millions placed the burden of raising their children on the woman.

“My mom’s friends, I respect them, but they don’t know about life,” he said, glassy-eyed, as the television flickered in the corner. “My thugs, they know about life, because they were in the struggle, too.”

His friends had seen darkness in the world, Augustus said, just as he had. Some had gotten shot. Some had been arrested. They knew what was up.

“That type of people,” he said, “they got big dreams.”[2]

This situation is wrong on so many levels. This situation is about more than money; money alone will not fix this. The time has come in this nation in general and in the black community specifically to make this situation a priority. We have allowed the myths and the lies of the streets to go unchallenged to our children, they have lost touch with reality and have replaced it with someone else’s false reality. The reality they live in is real only because we allow it to be, we allow them to believe that the dead end life of drug dealing and gang banging is preferable to honest living and work. There is no one to offset the allure of easy money with the reality of its consequences, which is death, prison, and emptiness. There is no one to teach them that being a man is not about smoking dope, making babies, and killing other young men. There is no one to teach them the hard lessons of being man, going to work, raising your kids and loving your wife.

No mother should ever have to choose to send her son to a war to save him, but if things don’t change soon in our communities it very well may be safer than being at home. And that is a tragedy for all of us. The whole world is lessened by the senseless violence that is cutting down our young men before they ever get to live. The whole world is lessened by a system that renders them useless before they reach their teens. We have no idea the contribution these lost young souls could have on the world, what gifts they could bring. Instead we readily accept their destruction and chalk it up to another bad ass kid that gets shot and killed. I hope one of these days they will be recognized as human again and worthy of our support and our anger. All they receive now is our pity and pity is just one step up from contempt.


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