"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 latest sneakers.

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 harsh realities.

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 feeble.

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 for society.