OK. So, when presidential candidate Newt Gingrich gamely faced an audience at a black church over the weekend, explaining his idea to have kids hired by their schools, was he hailed as courageous – praised for thinking out of the box and proposing precisely 1 (one) more solution to black America’s problems than the first black president ever has?
Nope. He was jeered and called a racist and a bigot – even though most poor kids are white, and giving youths of all races the opportunity to earn money and skills, learn a work ethic and stay engaged in their schools can only be a good thing.
You don’t have to be a coward to learn from such episodes that it’s safer to keep your mouth shut.
Thankfully, the dialogue in Augusta this past weekend was infinitely more productive and promising.
Students from Howard University and Paine College debated “The State of Young Black Men in America” at Paine’s chapel Sunday. The discourse was respectful, yet open and honest and solutions-oriented. The students rose far above the finger-pointing they see older generations continuing to engage in.
Is that a generational thing? If so, maybe there’s something we can learn from our kids.
In truth, many of the problems facing young black men are shared in the larger society – a breakdown in family, an ebbing of religious influences, a lack of appreciation for history, a rejection of the moral principles that built the country and more.
An honest, open and yes, courageous dialogue on race might reveal that these liberating, empowering principles that could lift up so many young people are denied them by a culture that scoffs at them – and by politicians and media who have sold the lie that those who espouse such principles are the enemy of black America.
Sadly enough, a “church service” at the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s church in Atlanta perpetrated that stereotype on Sunday, with the hyper-partisan senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett attacking Republicans from the pulpit and politicizing the King holiday as never before. One Atlanta reporter said it had the feel of a “campaign stop” for the president.
Jarrett’s repugnant use of the King holiday – and church – for translucent political gain is reminiscent of a movie quote describing a politician as “interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it.”
In contrast, one doctoral student at Howard said the Augusta panel discussion itself – which stressed family, education, self-reliance, high expectations and giving back to the community – was an indication that young black men are headed in the right direction.
They might be surprised, especially after listening to some politicians and media types, to know how many people are eager to join hands with them – if given half a chance.