Developing and Cultivating a Young ‘Criminal Class’ in Memphis

There are those who say that if the Ku Klux Klan tried to destroy an entire generation of Black boys, they could not have done a better job than Black people have apparently done to themselves.

Many of these same people actually believe that a generation or two of young Black men in Memphis (and other cities as well) have been so completely corrupted and defiled, that they have become a ‘species’ unto themselves.

Still further, that we have to ‘write-off’ this current generation of tattooed, sagging pants-wearing, shower shoe-wearing, bad-languaged young thugs, and concentrate on the next group of urban boys.

The fact is that when the current generation of urban boys looks around for answers, and perhaps a little more dignity than the urban males they see on a daily basis, most often they come up empty and get nothing tangible from parents, preachers, politicians, principals, or their peers. The threat is existential, and very real.

The ‘Black Community’ has devolved over the past two decades into an incessantly chaotic mix of great wealth for a few, utter confusion among the masses, bitter frustration inside neighborhoods, mistrust among the divergent groups, and no singular plan to dig ourselves out of this situation.

It is, therefore, no great surprise that we are witnessing the rise of a young ‘criminal class’ in Memphis and in cities across America.

Exactly what is it that we would expect from a once-proud group of African-American citizens, who would never curse in front of the elderly, or disrespect a teacher, and would frown upon being arrested for a ninth time? We can’t exclusively blame violent TV or video games, or violent lyrics in rap music, or even the violence that many young boys see inside their own homes as the ‘primary’ cause for the undeniable rise in shootings, stabbings, armed robberies, and domestic assaults.

But just like the arguments around Global Warming, these human elements must be considered as a possible (and quite plausible) contributing factor. “It’s the criminal’s own fault”, and “He should just go out and get a job”, are two of society’s main refrains, and these sentiments are both rooted in truth.

“Lock ‘em up for forty years”, and “three strikes, you’re out”, and “Let’s bring back law and order”, are also very popular things for politicians to say, and even frustrated everyday Black people agree.

But we’re still just pruning dead leaves from a tree, without getting into the roots or the lack of nourishment that caused the visible blemishes. The violence among young men in Memphis is rooted primarily in deviance, harsh economics, and limited opportunity.

Ours is a ‘cultural deficiency’ that starts in poverty-stricken, single-parent homes across Memphis, and extends to the greater community. Who would argue with such a premise?

Without early training and engagement of Middle School students, we are left with young boys who have been thrown to the wolves, the vultures and the predators of society, that lay-in-wait for them as new recruits for nefarious goals of easy money, street-respect, and ‘ghetto prestige.’

Allen Iverson can be credited as being the forerunner and icon of a belief that lots of money can mask pure thuggery, and that you can wear a basketball jersey anytime, anywhere. As long as you look tough and talk tough, you don’t have to have any legitimate knowledge about anything at all.

Violence is clearly a part of the game, and young boys better develop a strong stomach for it, or go back on the porch. The game is hard, and Hollywood hype has defined exactly how a young boy should look and act as he tries to carve out his early life and his destiny… shower shoes, neck tattoos, sagging pants, inarticulate speech, and probably, access to a gun. Meanwhile, most of them have never been to Sunday School, and never learned to pray.

Scarce summer (and year-round) employment, no family-centered recreational options, and a shortage of non-sports training has led thousands of young men to find other outlets for their ‘manhood quests,’ as they enter the larger economic mainstream.

The majority of these boys are not going to sit idly by, as their peers have girlfriends and cars, and occasionally money. They are going to engage the society based on what they know… and what they know how to do.

The names ‘Rayful Edmonds’ and ‘Brian Tribble’ may not be familiar to most Memphians, but theirs are two stories that speak volumes about the violent situations that now face Memphis and its teens. We are more familiar with the name ‘Craig Petties,’ but it’s the same game, just a different city. ‘Shop Class’ and early exposure to Vocational skills could at least give children an idea – and a hope – of what they might pursue as a legitimate career.

What do we expect the outcome to be, when 8,000 urban boys are left to their own devices in such a chaotic urban setting as Memphis has become? City and county officials only give lip service to the early development of Middle School and High School students, both boys and girls. These young people could find economic options in the un-used commercial kitchens of our 25 closed schools, and no one has ever talked to them about learning to install Fire Suppression Systems, or residential sprinkler systems, or pressure washing windows and driveways, or merchandising grocery stores as a small business… we only give them basketball. “Those who can, will… those who can’t, take.”

So you tell me, why do you think our boys are so violent? I’ll wait, as you ponder your role…

Tony Nichelson is a Memphis community activist who runs Man of the House, a youth mentoring program.

Taken from the Commerical Appeal

Eldridge Cleaver Discovers the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense

From the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense’s inception, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale considered the African-American community to be the Panthers lone buffer against state repression. The confrontation in front of the Ramparts building reinforced that belief. Toward ensuring the Black community’s support, Panther leaders began dispensing information that delivered their perspective of American racial matters via their news periodical, The Black Panther. The Black Panther not only provided much-needed publicity but also paved the way for a significant membership increase. The newspaper was the brainchild of the newest Panther leader, Eldridge Cleaver.

Eldridge Cleaver’s initial exposure to Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, and the Black Panther Party came during preparation for the aforementioned Malcolm X Day Celebration. Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale’s arrival at the “Black House” to receive their security assignment from the Malcolm X Day Celebration steering committee startled Eldridge Cleaver. Cleaver recalled, “I spun around in my seat and saw the most beautiful sight I had ever seen: four black men wearing black berets, powder blue shirts, black leather jackets, black trousers, shiny black shoes–and each with a gun!…Where was my mind at? Blown!” Cleaver, a communications master, eventually became the voice of Black Power. Not long after Cleaver became aware of its existence, he officially enlisted in the Black Panther Party and was appointed Minister of Information. Cleaver, a recent parolee from the California penal system after serving nine years for a rape conviction, was renowned throughout the Bay Area for his oratorical prowess and literary skill. Cleaver had much in common with other Panther leaders as many of them hailed from the Deep South; Cleaver’s roots lay in Arkansas.

Predictably, the Cleavers westward migration failed to solve their economic woes as they, like droves of other Black emigrants, landed in one of California’s housing projects. Considering his environs, it is not surprising that imprisonment was Cleaver’s inevitable destination. While incarcerated in Soledad, Cleaver honed the prodigious writing skills that facilitated his early release from prison. White Bay Area radicals became aware of his phenomenal literary skills via a series of essays that became the cult-classic best selling Soul on Ice. The aforementioned radicals diligently worked for his release and arranged employment at the leftist periodical Ramparts.

A disciple of Malcolm X, Cleaver was determined to bring Malcolm’s final secular vision, the Organization of Afro-American Unity, to fruition. Cleaver considered the uniting of African-American activists, artists, writers, and political theoreticians the initial step in accomplishing that goal. Such aspirations led Cleaver to create the “Black House” in San Francisco’s Fillmore district as a centralized location for the aforementioned individuals to assemble, strategize, and share information. The funds supporting this hub of African-American culture and politics were provided by Eldridge Cleaver’s white leftist benefactors. Newton and Seale thought that Cleaver’s most significant contributions would not be his phenomenal oratorical prowess or literary skill; rather his access to monies via speaking engagements and a network of wealthy white radicals. Indicative of such was Cleaver donating the residuals from Soul on Ice to the Panther Party. Cleaver immediately became the primary engine behind the Panthers most powerful communication tool and consistent fundraiser, The Black Panther.

Excerpt from Creating Revolution as They Advance: A Narrative History of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race and Culture, 2017

Old School Advising The New School: The Important Message Jay-Z is Sharing with Young Black America

I learned long ago that knowing your audience is critical to any attempt at delivering an excellent lecture. It is this understanding that sits at the core of my concerted efforts to go beyond the daily recommended allowance of our story in every portion of history that I teach my overwhelmingly African-American audience. I consider it essential to not only developing a significant connection to the young people I instruct every day, but also a crucial component in both the illumination of the American historical narrative and their politicization.

Considering such efforts to build historical moments around the black presence, a recent lecture regarding the rise of Conservatism, Ronald Reagan’s Presidency and Reaganomics framed within a larger discussion of the incubation and birth of Hip-Hop Culture is relatively standard. As I am confident that you can imagine, few topics capture the attention of my students like that seductress we call Hip-Hop. Although I am proud to admit that I love Rap Music and Hip-Hop Culture, every discussion that I have with young African-Americans regarding the topic painfully reinforces one unmistakable fact; I cannot “catch the beat” that they are grooving to.

The always expanding gap between my generation and more recent generations regarding Hip-Hop was solidified with thick concrete when one of my students proudly proclaimed that it was not Rakim, KRS-ONE, Scarface, LL Cool J, Ice Cube, Nas, or Grandmaster Melle Mel — each of these names was unfamiliar to my students — who had earned the right to sit on the mythical throne of greatest emcee ever, it was Drake; yes, you heard me correctly, Drake!!!! While recovering from the shock of such a foolish statement another student chimed in with the following assertion, “all I want to do is dance; I don’t care about the lyrics. I just want to boogie.”

Honestly, I would have been more taken aback by this stupidity was it not for prior interactions that informed me of contemporary adherents to the temple of Hip-Hop ignorance regarding the most significant popular culture creation ever. Were my students more aware, they would realize that Hip-Hop Culture is their greatest inheritance; a gift that allows them to express to the entire globe what it means to be young, gifted, and black in a hostile nation. Hip-Hop Culture offers each succeeding generation of Black America a conduit for cultural expression and political commentary. Although it is a bitter pill to swallow, all who love Hip-Hop eventually understand that their time at the forefront of the culture expires far too soon, and at that moment they must step aside and watch as a new generation guides this entity that we love in ways that we never imagined; in every way, Rap is a young man’s game.

Ironically, it is this expiration of one’s influence on Hip-Hop Culture that provides forty-something-year-old African-Americans a unique, although not always appreciated, opportunity to view past mistakes and a chance to warn current hip-hop heads of the snares and traps they are bound to encounter. Hindsight allows the regretful and weary traveler to view the distance they have traveled and the long road ahead; a distance that they will never complete.

I am confident that it is the regret that flows from missed opportunities that led famed emcee Jay-Z to hurl the following lyrics from his song “The Story of O.J.” at the current trendsetters driving the priorities of young African-Americans via Hip-Hop Culture.

I bought every V12 engine.

Wish I could take it back to the beginnin’

I coulda bought a place in Dumbo before it was Dumbo

For like 2 million

That same building today is worth 23 million

Guess how I’m feelin’? Dumbo…

“You wanna know what’s more important than throwing away money at a strip club? Credit!!!!!”…

Fuck livin rich and dyin broke

Jay-Z’s lyrical diatribe succinctly conveys the important lessons he has learned during the past two decades for those who are at the beginning of a similar journey down the bumpy, often unpaved road we call life. Only those who oppose the advancement of Black America could take issue with the lyrics.

There is little room to debate the reality that Hip-Hop Culture and Rap Music is a young man’s game whose ownership is in a word, fleeting. This fact does not mean that the rap game is not in desperate need of a recalibration that will hopefully inform the current generation of what Hip-Hop Culture is at its best moments; political, progressive, profound, and prophetic. This reality compels me to applaud Jay-Z for his latest lyrical offering, if nothing else, it displays that “Hov” has spent significant portions of the past two decades fulfilling lyrics from his song Moment of Clarity.

We as rappers must decide what’s most important
And I can’t help the poor if I’m one of them
So I got rich and gave back, to me that’s the win/win
So next time you see the homie and his rims spinning
Just know my mind is working just like them (rims, that is)

Good job, Hov!!!!!

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race and Culture, 2017.

Committed to investigating, examining, and representing the African-American male, men, and manhood by offering commentary regarding the status of Black Men and Black Manhood as it relates to African-American Manhood, Race, Class, Politics, and Culture from an educated and authentic African-American perspective aimed at improving the plight of African-American men and African-American Manhood in regards to Politics, Culture, Education, and Social Matters.

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