Poor leadership hurts the young

Wiley A. Hall 3rd

July 07, 1992|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

It occurs to me that the current president of the United States is a very poor role model for black youths.

Many of the young adults in my community have given up on the system.

They don't believe they will receive fair reward for a fair day's labor. They don't believe their vote counts. They don't believe the powers that be care about black America nor can those powers be held accountable for their indifference.

In short, many of these youths feel isolated and disconnected from the system in every meaningful way.

Adults in my community do the best they can to steer our young adults through this difficult phase. We tell them that their labors may not produce the rewards they want or feel they deserve, but that they can build something tangible so that their children will not have to work as hard or travel as far.

And we tell them that the hard work, dreams and sacrifices of those who came before them have produced a slow accumulation of gains, measured progress, modest successes.

The trick, we say, is to use the good in the system to change the bad.

But we are describing a very subtle strategy in a go-go age, and one sad legacy of the militant era of the late 1960s and early 1970s is that anyone who espouses such a philosophy is automatically labeled an "Uncle Tom."

Thus, young people are too busy pursing their lips and rolling their eyes and tapping their feet to listen.

"Besides," they argue angrily, "the only times black people have made progress is after they have taken to the streets in riots." Isn't that the essential message of rap performers like Sister Souljah and Ice-T?

This is where our current president has failed the youth of my community -- who are, after all, the youth of our community, of his community.

Shortly after assuming office, the current president solidified his political base by isolating the urban poor and fingering them as the enemy: as the source of crime, of drugs, of the decline in America's industrial productivity and of the breakdown of America's moral fiber.

The scheme worked. For a long time, the current president rode high in the polls. When he bashed the evil legions of President Saddam "Hitler" Hussein of Iraq, his political future seemed assured.

But everything the current president said, coupled with his administration's policy of malign neglect of urban problems, served to reinforce and confirm the isolation of black adolescents.

Now, he has compounded the damage by appearing to "wake-up" to urban problems after the riots in Los Angeles.

The two urban aid packages passed recently by Congress and approved by the president provide too little money to urban areas to do any real good, yet they provide too much money to ignore.

Last week, for instance, state officials announced that Maryland's share of the first part of the urban aid program comes to about $7.5 million -- enough to provide 1,700 teen-agers summer jobs and allow a handful of summer camps to open more slots for poor children.

The second part of the package will continue a program -- the urban enterprise zones -- that has had very limited success so far.

What these programs do, however, is undercut the values of hard work and citizenship that responsible adults try to instill in their young.

They send the negative message that the man who has ignored political pressure and scorned reasonable debate for these many years is responding at last to violence and destruction. No wonder all of those young rap stars have been so puffed up and insufferable lately.

Luckily, most of our young people, like their parents before them, will set aside their bitterness and anger and get to work building a future for their children, regardless of whether they feel part of the system or not.

Like their parents before them, they will work harder for less reward. They will struggle and fight to use what good they find in our political system to combat the bad.

And at the end, they will see only modest successes, a slow, painful accumulation of gains that amount to only measured progress.

Still, I wish the current president was a man fit to be around our children. I wish his style of governance was inclusive, rather than exclusive -- even if we never agreed on policy.

I wish he had devoted himself to creating that "kinder, gentler America" he promised once upon a time.

But no, the only "reason" the current president seems to understand is the violence of senseless, destructive rioting.

Oops! Sorry kids. Pretend I didn't say that.

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