Empower Youth. Engage Parents. Enrich Communities.
“If we accept and acquiesce in the face of discrimination, we accept the responsibility ourselves and allow those responsible to salve their conscience by believing that they have our acceptance and concurrence. We should, therefore, protest openly everything… that smacks of discrimination or slander.” Mary McLeod Bethune
It is about 9:30pm and I am preparing for bed. Climbing into bed and anticipating sleep is one of my favorite parts of the evening. Faithfully, I smile every evening when I pull the blankets over me; last night was no different. That is until my phone started alerting. I forgot to place it face down. Seldom do I turn it off completely because the hustle never stops. So one after the other, messages were displaying. I finally grabbed my phone to check the urgency. It was someone close to me. She wanted to tell me about her day. I smiled. It is always a pleasant surprise when she connects. She spent the day at her grandson’s school and she wanted to share her experiences.
My grandson is in 2nd grade and attends an urban public school. His teacher had called me about his behavior so I decided to go to the school for a few hours. My grandson of course straightened up until another child socked him in the nose. I was able to keep him under control and talked with the other child about not being violent. I realized today the real trouble that inner city children are in because of the long-term, deplorable economic and social conditions of their parents; children are suffering. They are suffering in ways that are heart wrenching. I saw behavior problems that are beyond the scope of teacher duties, which may have resulted from a pregnant mother on drugs and/or abuse. Many were uncontrollable. One child who continuously talked smart to the teacher began biting himself on his own arm and another teacher casually stated, “oh just let him bite himself.” I saw two adults arguing in front of the children in the lunchroom. I noticed some of the black boys are in “tough-boy” mode. Maybe this is because of the violence at home or a method to protect themselves. In the midst of the madness I saw some eager children with an excitement for learning. I spoke to them and my grandson about the importance of learning and being respectful. The teacher, who is frazzled and retiring soon, enlightened me on a lot about what many children have revealed to her about their home life. Kids talk about their exposure to drugs, while many don’t have to say a word because the smell of weed is in their little clothes. I left there overwhelmed and wondering just how will these children make it?? How will they make it?? And they will not hire counselors! They claim they don’t have the budget!! Anyway, get rest. It’s getting late.
I started to cry. I did not know what else to do. After reading this text message and recalling an earlier meeting, filled with despair, I could only offer tears and fell asleep on my sorrow-soaked pillow.
Next morning, it is 4:45am; the despair is gone! Spent some time thinking and now I am angry. You know what pisses me of the most; the whole country is in an uproar about the recent Department of Education confirmation because she may siphon money away from public education. How hypocritical of you! You fear loosing money but our schools have never been adequately funded. You ask us to stand with you and attend post card writing parties to voice our concerns but not one time have you toiled over the blight of the urban school system. You ask us to call our local representatives, contact our senators, protest in the streets; let our voices be heard for causes that are near and dear to you, but we’ve been screaming since 1619, yet our whimpers fall on deaf ears. You are outraged by this recent confirmation: questioning how you can trust your most precious possession and their destiny to the uninformed and unfamiliar but we continue to trust you with ours. So now what: now we need to stand, not because someone else is afraid of being treated black, we need to stand because no one is coming to save our communities, our children nor our schools.
How do you stand when kneeling is your assumed position? I am glad you asked.
Step 1: Empower Youth
- Belief Systems
- Active Engagement
- Social Bonds
Conclusion: We have to work with our youth to alter their belief system. Let’s put this into perspective; our youth have to navigate two worlds: their academic world and their personal world and often times these worlds cannot coexist without conflict. It is our duty to work with our young people to help navigate these realms successful, while simultaneously accepting both. Making the decision to value education does not devalue family. Additionally, young people have to be encouraged to advocate for themselves and ensure their needs are being met. This begins with being actively engaged in the process of life: education, athletic, spiritual. It may seem demanding but there is no time to waste. Their lives depend on their presence and participation. Furthermore, youth must understand the importance of positive social bonds. Teach them to forge bonds that foster growth, maturity, knowledge and success. They must form alliances with like-minded individuals and invested stakeholders to address the current academic outlook.
Step 2: Engage Parents
- Meeting Teacher(s)
- Visiting Schools
- Connecting With Student’s Peers
- Connecting With Other Parents
Conclusion: We are responsible for their futures and it is time for us to start behaving as such. Let’s start by believing in the best for our youth. We need to uplift them and let them know that they are decedents of kings and queens; royal blood flows through their veins. This may require a shift in how we regard ourselves but this mental transformation is necessary. Our youth are our greatest priority and we need to be involved in all aspects of their lives. We need to visit school campuses weekly and also connect with athletic coaches and the religious leaders who serve our youth. We must be active in all of their relationships. Connect their friends; connect with the parents of their friends. At some point in time we decided our participation was not necessary and this has contributed to our demise.
Step 3: Enrich Communities
- Social Systems
- Human Capital
Conclusion: We are responsible for our surroundings and our past, present and future clearly confirms no one else will shoulder this responsibility. We can longer look to local, state, or federal entities to revitalize and / or develop our neighborhoods; this obligation is ours. It starts with us deciding change is possible and that we are fully capable of designing our destiny. Our current system of governing leaves us dependent on forces of oppression. Social programs created to assist intentionally destroy. Our reliance on these programs continues to subjugate any efforts to thrive. We must seek ownership to dismantle this systems. We must create and patronize our own businesses and own our homes and neighborhoods. This starts by investigating your surroundings, find individuals and families who have similar beliefs and build relationships. Access the human capital in your area. Identify local citizenry who have products and services that will benefit you and your family. Support one another; grow and build together, tap into what is readily available. Also, it is time to decide that education is priority. You and your like-minded neighbors must go to the community school at least 2 times per week to put all members of the academic community on notice. Either they will transform it from the inside or the community will transform it from the outside. We are the key decision makers in our communities. It is time to take a stand by creating standards and expectations for the members of your local populace. We need to hold ourselves accountable to each other if we truly want to transform our neighborhoods and our lives.
It is time to work like our lives and the lives of our children depend on us…because they do!
Dr. Shanelle R. Benson Reid, President and CEO of ACCESS Global, LLC. is a Consultant, Coach, Author and Professional Speaker. Her expertise is in Education, Cultural Competency, Social Awareness, Entrepreneurship and Community / Individual Empowerment.