During the Acres Home Chamber for Business and Economic Development’s 27th annual recognition banquet, I challenged the audience to, among other things, save our children!. It was not an empty challenge but a heartfelt sounding of an alarm that is ringing throughout our country and world. It is our obligation to prepare our children for the challenges that lie ahead, as we have done for generations. It is important to recognize that for many children in traditional homes in middle and upper income families, failure is not an option. It is also important to recognize that for many children who face great challenges economically, culturally, socially rise above their circumstances and realize success. The alarm is not for these children, who are performing well, except to say, for them, we must continue to provide nurturing and positive environments. As a community, we owe these children and their families our support, resources and assistance. But the focus of this alarm is for the many children who lack strong support systems at home and in their communities. These children are most highly at risk and it is these children that we have an immediate obligation to save. From what you ask, from a lifetime of failure, from prison, from drug addiction, from the cycle of poverty and parentless children, from the vagaries that a prosperous and evolved society should never permit to befall its people.
Like many people of my generation, I wish our young men would pull up their pants but I am less stricken by their fashion sense as I am by their downward spiral from poor education, grave academic performance and unreadiness for the business or marketplace. Part of the reason for their failure is on them because they must have the drive to achieve regardless of the barriers that may surround them. But the major burden is on us because they learn from us, they mimic in large order, what they see us do. They learn from us what is important and what is foolishness and unacceptable. We teach them to speak well and respect authority. We teach them to read and to think critically, to hone their talents to achieve; to master their skills. We teach them how to work with each other, to love, to honor, to respect, to hate, to demand dignity. When we fail to fulfill our responsibilities as parents and guardians of the village, it is we who fail and leave a legacy of failure for our children.
WHAT MUST WE DO
Stop Widespread Incarceration: For far too long, America has accepted the policy of ‘law and order’ which while sounding sensible has in fact led to incarcerating more Americans per capita, and particularly African Americans, than almost any other country in the world. This over- incarceration increases the number of unskilled, uneducated men and women who may in turn, have little positive to offer when they return to their communities. And we should make no mistake about it…they do come home. But our national and local policies insure that when they return home there will be far too little opportunity for them to get education, housing, jobs, or government assistance. Over-incarceration continues to have long lasting effects of tearing down already ravaged communities and destroying families and especially children. At the risk of oversimplification, we must stop imprisoning our young people. Prison must stop being our only option. We need to refocus our attention on educating our children before they get in trouble and even afterwards with prison education. Some years ago, the Earl Carl Institute of the Thurgood Marshall Law School at Texas Southern University in collaboration with the NAACP-Houston branch published a research paper that showed the extreme and positive impact education has on reducing/eliminating crime.
We must give more than lip service to Education: Education is not the same as warehousing children in school buildings for long periods of the day. Education requires adequate intellectual resources and commitment to learning and to teaching. Our children should not just be taught to memorize answers to questionable standardized questions, but instead should be taught to think critically, to learn concepts, to solve problems so that they will perform well on any tests. The idea that merely teaching children to spit back what they’ve memorized, like a parrot, is senseless. When was the last time any of us heard a parrot explain what he meant when he said “Polly want a cracker”?
We must hold our educators accountable. But the failure of an education system most assuredly begins with the failure of the community’s commitment to education. We as a community must raise our expectations of our school leaders and for our children. Area universities, particularly Texas Southern University and Prairie View A & M University should require its learned educators to develop an academic plan directed at area ISDs for the education of our children. Their view should be academic excellence and market competitiveness. While we encourage the infusion of engineers, scientists, professionals from other countries, we cannot do that at the expense of our children at home. Failure should not be an option. Failure must not be an option.
We must provide job training and experience: Our children should not be left to their own devices during summer breaks from school. Mayor Sylvester Turner has committed the City of Houston to work with local entrepreneurs, organizations, non-profits and other employers to hire at least 5,000 children during the summer beginning in 2016. Such a summer jobs program serves multiple purposes. Children learn professionalism, work ethics, the importance of being on time, how to talk to and with their colleagues and supervisors, what is expected in the work place, how to be successful, how to perform and they have something to do that’s productive and meaningful. Finally, they earn money. The Mayor said that he intends to expand the program next year and he should be commended for his dedication to our children and to the City of Houston.
We must teach and mete discipline: We need to set clear paths for our children by establishing what is right and what is wrong. I started this article with talking about over-incarceration, a huge problem, especially in the traditionally urban community. But that is not to say that improper behavior should be ignored. In fact, for too long, our community may be guilty of providing a safe haven for wrongdoing. We must commit to stop that cycle. We should be as vocal about the wrongdoing within our community as we are about wrongdoing from outside our community. It is irrelevant whether the plague in our community is brought in by a black patient zero or a white one, it is our duty to isolate it and to cure it.
Embrace our daughters: The power of our girls and women is often overlooked, but their role is pivotal to our childrens’ success. Long the strength in our communities, our girls and women must reclaim their power to direct the activities of our boys and men. When our daughters reject the foolishness that our sons most assuredly will engage, our boys will stop. When we join with our daughters and reject domestic violence, mistreatment, rape, describing women by unmentionable terms; when our community makes certain that our daughters’ rejections are heard; and when we teach our young men how to respect our daughters, our sisters, our mothers, our friends, we will be able to save our children.