Alright, no time like the present. That's what I kept being reminded of at the State of the African American Male (SAAM) Conference held at Malcolm X College (http://www.saamchicago.org).
In one of the long hallways in the lobby of the college they have Malcolm X's car. It is an old car. The age of the car jumps out at you because you begin to see what change means: Long term, it all ages. We learn that it is the present that matters, and that's what the conference, hosted and sponsored by Representatives Danny K. Davis, Jesse L. Jackson, and Bobby Rush, wanted everyone to be aware of.
I found myself impressed with the can-do-punk attitude coming from the podium: Do it yourself. You might find that phenomenon uncommon coming from a conference sponsored by Liberals. Here were the Liberals telling people not to look for the government to bail them out - they said start a business, become an entrepreneur.
These are good suggestions, goals and lessons. The issue is implementing them. Below are some of the statistics working against black males. No sympathy here is needed: I just wanted you to have an idea of where things stand today. Look at the statistics provided by Representative Davis and put a real life with the numbers.
* In 2001, the Illinois Department of Corrections released 15,488 prisoners to the city of Chicago, 90% were male and 85% were African American.
* Since the 1995 Reform Act, 35,600 or 62% of African American males have dropped out of a CPS high school and only 22,000 or 38% graduated.
* Nearly one out of two black males between the ages of 20-24 is neither in school or working.
If there were easy solutions, they would already be done.
Teach Lerone Bennett, Executive Editor, Ebony Magazine, is an impressive speaker. While he was giving his Keynote Address on Saturday at the conference, someone in the hall kept softly encouraging him to speak further - to speak with passion - and he did. The audience member kept saying the word "Teach". Bennett would get going on one of his intellectual rolls, one of those mind walks where the speaker keeps bringing you along.
Bennett would be saying something like "The trick of oppression is to make oppression the proof of oppression" - then from the audience member "Teach" - - with Bennett not missing a step - "I'm tired of apologizing for men, and it's good to see Hellraisers gathered once again!" - Teach - "There are three things we need to add to our calling, three things to keep in the forefront of our work together - Service, Struggle, and Excellence." Teach.
The day went on and on like that. Teach. We need more of that. I'm partial to the idea, being a teacher, but we are all teachers. Spend time with humans and you become a teacher: it is one of those things we do, right or wrong, no matter what we are up to.
Bennett ended his talk by listing some of the threats facing our communities - Jim Crowism, black economic depression, and a drug plague - and a plan for change. Bennett called for a "Crusade" against hard drugs: he said, "The number one problem was the flow of hard drugs."
Think again of Malcolm's car. We've been fighting hard drugs since before that car was made and before Malcolm had his effect on America. Why are we still fighting hard drugs the same way - making felons and incarcerating? It's like an old war where we keep sending the soldiers up the hill for one last charge.
What is wrong with us? The drug market should be controlled like any other. REGULATE. The government is abdicating this issue to the power of the street: this power, built on the same things all illicit markets are built on, money and violence, is destroying communities.
I know we don't care, but let's at least try something else. If the flow of drugs is destroying communities, and we can't turn the flow off, although we have spent billions trying, what is it we should do? Regulate the market, which removes the violence from the trade, and give treatment to those in need. Money saved, people helped, and communities served and protected: it is no utopia - it is suppose to be the basics.
Bennett closed with a call for investment, a government program, but one based on the tradition of the New Deal. Bennett said we should invest $40/50 billion in a development program along the lines of FDR's 1933 Civilian Conservation Corps. This is old-fashioned urban and economic development. I'll let the experts decide on the wisdom of this approach.
Two ideas that come to mind are the savings involved in regulating the flow of drugs rather than imprisoning drug users, and the cost of another government economic development program: the war in Iraq. We have spent $151 billion on the government program of invading and rebuilding Iraq: this is at a cost of $1,600 per American household, and the cost will go higher. If we can invest that much in the Iraq program, investing in the urban and economic development of our cities seems wiser, and far cheaper.
The present will do that, as we make choices all the time, and it makes you think of things - Like which communities and cities should we be investing in?
Kanye West, Chicago's hip-hop sensation, has this line on his recent album - - "We weren't suppose to make it past 25, jokes on you we still alive".
- - To the living.
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