"A Lost Tribe"
by Lashawna Etheridge-Bey
The government and the media often associate young
people in prison with gang violence; in fact, the system justifies
incarcerating the youth at an astonishing rate by labeling them
"A menace to society." Americans and the government
in which we live have constantly denied that the incarceration
rate among the youth is a direct result of genocide. Children
are not in prison because they are unfit for society; they are
in prison due to: poverty, racism, miseducation, boredom and
a lack of guidance and support. As a result the future of Afro-Americans
has been crippled by the system. Indeed, our children have regressed
from endangered species to a nation in bondage. It is ironic
that the system does not consider individual circumstances when
a young person is locked-up. Although the sentencing judges have
authority to use their own discretion, young Afro-Americans are
sentenced to extremely harsh prison terms. Therefore, Afro-American
families continue to disintegrate.
Gangs and the youth are linked together because the majority
of young people in inner cities lack strong family ties. Therefore,
it is common for children to replace the family structure with
the mutual bond shared between peers. A two-parent household
is a rare entity in the hood. Fathers do not take responsibility
for their children; consequently, boys have no male figure to
imitate. In addition women are forced to attempt to teach boys
to be men; the value system is distorted. Coincidently, the absence
of role models accompanied by a desire to belong often leads
to criminal activity. Children will not instinctively learn to
be constructive. Deteriorating living conditions remain detrimental.
The focus on everyday survival is so intense one rarely imagines
living free from the misery in the projects. Poverty is spiritually
and mentally disruptive to a young person's growth. It causes
negative attitudes and desperation regarding endurance. Inspiration
is not visible in poor communities; people simply exist. Nevertheless,
a great deal of value is placed on material things such as: cars,
name-brand sneakers and jewelry. In the ghetto, young people
are frequently killed over Eddie Bauer coats and Michael Jordan's
The projects are usually the most segregated area in a city.
The happiest people these kids encounter live inside the television.
By instinct and observation young people learn that race plays
a significant role in the course of their lives. Segregation
is so obvious in America that the only time project kids see
Europeans is when the landlord collects his rent or the cops
are on patrol. Police brutality and harassment is very much a
fact of life in the hood; indeed, it gives young people an attitude
of defiance for the law.
The inferior school system further complicates life for children
in the ghetto. They do not learn anything that reflects what
they consider survival skills. Young children go to school hungry
and return to see their mothers scraping up a hot meal. They
see their mothers working long hours to pay the rent, so her
presence at P.T.A meetings is never expected. These children
know that their parents have no bank account; therefore, college
tuition is not a household term.
It is apparent that Afro-Americans are killing one-another at
an alarming rate. Project kids validate themselves by responding
to their anger with violence. Boredom is rampant and self-destructive,
and sometimes anger is totally misdirected. In fact, recreation
in the ghetto consists of fist fighting and drive-by shootings.
Sadly, gang affiliation and/or a tough reputation gives young
people in the hood a sense of pride.
A large number of young people have drug addicted parents; therefore,
the shame of drug abuse becomes another factor that deters their
development. Nevertheless, it is human nature to devise defense
mechanisms, so alcohol and drug abuse becomes a means to escape
Most young people in the ghetto choose marijuana as their first
drug of choice. They smoke marijuana on a daily basis, and although
it is psychologically addictive, it is the most socially accepted
illegal drug that exists. Consequently, drug treatment is not
accessible. When a vast majority of people are relying on mind
altering substances their ability to uplift themselves becomes
Misguided youth are rapidly giving birth to another generation
that will ultimately be led astray. Due to loneliness and peer
pressure children are having sex at earlier ages. They are not
equipped with knowledge about sex; in fact, enlightenment of
the responsibility it entails is taboo in the hood. Therefore,
a baby having a baby comes to nobody's surprise.
Considering the issues deeply imbedded in the projects, prison
and/or death are inescapable. Sometimes prison or death is seen
as a way to elude poverty, and misery; therefore, it is welcomed.
However, children are too often left fatherless; moreover, the
percentage of children with incarcerated mothers has overwhelmingly
increased. When young parents are incarcerated their babies are
left alone with no hero or role model; consequently, the cycle
inevitably repeats itself. Once held captive, the average mother
will mature and educate herself. However, the opportunity to
guide their child(ren) is limited by the confines of prison.
It has been said that if one has no knowledge of where they came
from, they cannot know where they are going.
A commitment to uplift the youth must be a joint effort. Parents,
teachers and leaders must recognize the effects of poverty, racism,
miseducation etc. They have to guide their children and support
them unconditionally. Understanding their needs and caring will
enable them to strive for higher heights. Unity must be restored;
therefore, the select few that make it out of the ghetto must
remember where they came from. They have to aid and assist the
people they left behind. The importance of an education must
be instilled in the youth. Young people need to be given the
opportunity to travel, it will broaden their range of thoughts.
Too often the ghetto becomes the world to young people, they
need to know it is not the end of the world. Indeed, Afro-American
history must be implemented in the school curriculum as it relates
to the struggle today. In addition, sex and drug education as
well as skills on how to manage anger are greatly needed in the
public school system. An inferior education ultimately leads
to inferior career aspirations. Young people in inner cities
desperately need college prep courses as early as junior high
school. They need to know college is a possibility. The children
in the ghetto can no longer be told "I don't care if you
don't go to school, but you're getting out of here!" Positive
attitudes and actions must be displayed so that they can be duplicated.
The struggle Afro-Americans endured centuries ago was severely
brutal, however, it closely resembles the struggle today. The
rise in the prison population must take priority on the list
of social issues in the lives of Afro-Americans. Moreover, young
people must choose to be responsible and apply themselves academically.
Knowledge is power and when it is acquired one is more likely
to uplift themselves. Young people cannot depend on a racist
government to care about their lives and their future, especially
when it is obvious that the U.S. government's wealth has come
at the expense of human lives since its birth. The U.S. prison
system is a booming business; therefore, Afro-Americans must
reflect on the government's sole purpose in the past regarding
their prosperity. Indeed, the system is determined to enslave,
exploit and oppress Afro-Americans. The fact that Afro-American
youth constitute the highest group of people in prison is verification
of the modern day slavery that exists. Ever since the first Africans
were brought to America, on the bottom of slave ships four hundred
years ago, the government deemed them less than human and unfit