BOSTON — Boston.-- The mud is deep, the rain is hard, the mule has run off, and there is no Rand McNally Road Atlas for African Americans seeking I-95 out of hell.
So what is new? All that escaped slaves had were crusty toes and the North Star. All that many of our parents and grandparents had was a piece of land and a few hogs or a rat-infested, cold-water flat. All that Rosa Parks had was her behind, which changed America the day she refused to move it for white folks.
America is burning in property and sanity. The looting of banks by rich white people may cost the United States 1,000 times the property damage in Los Angeles, but it is only black looters from whom the president demands law and order. The president from the party that has run America for 20 of the last 24 years sees no self-failure. He plays up the image of thousands of L.A. Willie Hortons and blames dead white liberals for birthing them. If that is a leader, then give me the late Peter Sellers in ''Being There.'' President Sellers was nearly mute.
Two weeks ago, 600 African Americans met in Roxbury, Massachusetts, to say that if white power will not move, black power will move African America. They said it was time for African Americans to ''take responsibility'' to fight inner-city ills.
''It was one of the most extraordinary meetings I've been involved in since the 1960s,'' Hubie Jones, acting president of Roxbury Community College, said after the meeting. ''I feel especially good about the leadership -- its intelligence, its integrity and its mental toughness.''
There must be tough follow-through. Crime, drugs and teen pregnancy topped that night's list. We can keep going. Instead of lamenting that public schools have been left for dead, take them over. Only parents can pressure teachers and politicians to deliver education.
We must attack materialism. Instead of only talking about lacking money for social causes, we can tell young people that they get one pair of sneakers, under $50. I would welcome school uniforms to keep eyes on texts instead of leather.
I see students whose entire diet seems to consist of corn curls and Coke. Corn curls and Coke is clout and self-esteem deferred. Students at Jeremiah E. Burke High School computed for me how much they spend at the corner Burger King. One hundred students at $5 a day for nine school months is $90,000. This might not be Exxon, but this could fund teachers, community centers, trips, libraries and other foods for the mind.
Students should protest the Rodney King verdict. But they should also boycott the rapper Ice Cube until he stops shilling for 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor and protest radio stations that play the ad. Since black men have the highest rates of tobacco-related cancers, we need to give Ebony magazine a deadline to stop taking advertising money from cigarette companies or stop our subscriptions.
We need to bluntly tell millionaire black entertainers and athletes to stop fronting for white executives to peddle salt, sugar, cholesterol and alcohol to us. We should be demanding that these symbols of health contribute to money-starved, inner-city health clinics.
We need to stop our addiction to television. The TV is on in African-American homes close to 70 hours a week, compared to 48 in others. TV spews out more violence and instant gratification than patience and thrift. In school, on Whittle's Channel One, Pepsi says, ''Gotta Have It.'' Wrigley's gum gives us breast-level shots of women. In an era of atrocious teen writing skills, Sprint wants us on the phone.
This deep mud is becoming quicksand. The rain is turning into hail. Many African Americans can no longer find the North Star because they are locked up inside homes in fear of jeeps that spray them with unaimed bullets.
It remains true that the fire that is burning started with white racism. But since when could you depend on racism to deliver the water and bucket on time? Rosa Parks made history because she did not move her behind. We must make a new history by moving ours into the bucket brigade.
Derrick Z. Jackson is a columnist for the Boston Globe.