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A Dream For Our Young Black Men

The bleak landscape spoke volumes about the hardscrabble existence that many black hands had toiled on for decades in their attempt to eke out a living. Yet, the bare ground now only bore the remnants of a few dilapidated shacks that dotted the roadside and the barren fields that no longer could yield the fruits of its once fertile ground.

Across the blacktop highway from these shacks sat a lean, almost gaunt young black man on the crumpled steps that lead to a non-existent porch of a long-forgotten house. The sad young man wore a dingy wife beater and baggy pants that even as he sat his pants seemed to sag below his waist and hang off his butt. The only things that seemed out of context in this desolate locale were the sparkling white Air Jordans he wore and the state of the art cellphone that had his attention as he bent over it. No other souls were in sight for miles around. Until now I had not encountered another car or human as I drove down this lonely road for the last hour.

When the young man and I finally made eye contact, I sensed a sadness and despair in his eyes that belied his youthful age. Just in that fleeting moment, I could tell he had long ago lost any hope for himself and his future. His cellphone was the only thing he had left that provided any companionship or happiness. As I passed him by, I wondered who was he, what had caused him to end up all alone and where was everyone else in this foreboding place.

This was a dream I had a few days ago that really stuck with me. When I awoke, I wondered what made me dream this. Like many dreams, it came from something in my subconscious that was based on things or someone that I had recently encountered.

In my commute to work, I sometimes take the scenic route and pass through a small community that is in one of the poorest counties in Florida. I often notice the young black men walking the street of the community or standing idle in front of the local convenience store. The images of these seemingly able-bodied young men loitering around are definitely part of what infiltrated my dreams that night.

To me this dream typified the plight of some young black men. They don't have anything to occupy their time and often seem lost and unaware of the world around them. Their only options are to stand around, walk the streets and ultimately get into trouble. As the saying goes, "an idle mind is the devil's workshop." Many of these young people are left to the streets due to drugs, domestic violence, poverty and the hopelessness that have overtaken their parents and guardians and their communities. Some were never taught the proper way to become productive citizens in society. Others don't even have parents around and may be living with other family members who are struggling to make ends meet. How many more generations can grandma raise when she's weary from trying to survive herself?

I often feel helpless because I don't know have an easy answer to the problem of employing and educating our young black men and women who may have lost all hope if they had any to begin with. I've done my best with my own three sons. I've also reached out to young family members and other young people with encouragement, support and words of wisdom whenever possible. I've admonished them on occasion when it was needed.

We hear so much about government providing handouts and making many people less productive and dependent on the welfare state. It's time to do something radical to change the paradigm. I'm not advocating the elimination of federal support because it is necessary for many families and people who use it wisely to help themselves until they can do better. If we don't feel that this is the government's role as many conservatives will attest, then it's time for businesses and organizations to step up to the plate and try something different.

My call to action is for major corporations, with their billions of dollars in reserve, to launch an initiative where they go into the depressed areas of the nation and start innovative job programs for these youths. Despite the belief that these young black men and women don't have anything tangible to offer, I'm willing to bet that there are many youth out there that if given the chance they can bring something beneficial to the table for these companies. Most just need someone to focus on them and give them a purpose. If the traditional route to education isn't the answer, let's try the approach of internships, apprenticeships and similar programs.

This would be an experiment to see what would happen. Many young people are looking for someone to give them a chance and to believe in them. Wouldn't Apple, Facebook or Google be able to create a technology internship program that would capture the interest of these young people? Couldn't ESPN, FoxSports, Sports Illustrated and other sports-related companies find work that could tap into the athletic skills that many of these idle young men possess? So much money is spent on advertising that is directed towards this same demographic. Why not employ some of them in a radical program to help get them off the streets?

It's easy for some to say that the responsibility lies on the young people to take the first step and be aggressive to find jobs and education. You always hear "I made it on my own" or "Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps." That's easier said than done when you have those around you to help you find your way. Even those statements aren't true because everybody has gotten to where they are through the help of someone else no matter how small the support, tip, advice, opportunity or referral was.

I believe that the only way to solve the crime, poverty and depression in our black communities, we need the support of everyone including those naysayers who have long ago written off the black community. It's going to take all of us, government, business, communities and individuals working together to improve the situation.

When I think back on that dream, I'm still sad and affected by it because that young man sitting lost on those steps could be one of my sons if it wasn't for the grace of God. The dream I'd rather have come true is for all able-bodied young black men to be gainfully employed and valued by society. This dream would then be a reality.

© Copyright 2014.
Memphis Vaughan, Jr.
Editor and Publisher, TimBookTu

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