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