Black Teen-Agers with Big Dreams

January 14, 1994|By CARL T. ROWAN

Washington -- A few months ago the president of a prestigious, predominantly white university telephoned me to say: ''Our black enrollment has declined, and I personally regard that as a tragedy. Diversity of student body and faculty is in and of itself a great educating force. We need help.''

''What can I do?'' I asked.

''Your Project Excellence scholarship program sends about 100 marvelous black youngsters from the Washington area to college every year,'' he replied,

''But hundreds more of equal excellence don't even get nominated by their schools. You say no to dozens of brilliant black kids because you run out of money. I'm asking if you can identify for us those worthy students who probably won't get one of your scholarships. We want some of them here.''

Suddenly I got calls from other presidents and deans saying much the same thing. So I asked President Charles Overby if the Freedom Forum would join Project Excellence in sponsoring a Scholarship Day in which we would bring these college officials together with youngsters with a hunger for learning and great dreams of success -- but who have desperate needs for money.

I am proud that today more than 1,000 top-rank high school juniors and seniors from 161 greater Washington high schools will meet with about 100 representatives from some 40 of our best colleges and universities. I think many will ''make a deal.''

Offices of the Freedom Forum, of which I am a trustee, will be overflowing with hope and opportunity, not funereal predictions that the country is drowning in a bloody sea of crime -- especially black teen-age crime.

I have been dismayed in recent days by ''black leaders'' who have wrung their hands publicly over ''black-on-black crime.'' Something inside me revolts at the notion that black-on-black crime is worse, or a greater social curse, than black-on-white or white-on-black crime. A murder is a murder is a murder.

I can't believe that the Rev. Jesse Jackson or other black leaders believe that they can preach or lecture away the lawlessness in ** long-depressed, neglected areas of black America. A man -- or woman -- desperate enough to rob, drugged enough to rape, enraged enough to kill is going to strike the closest victim of chance. He or she is not going to pause in some sudden, rational realization that ''Hey, I was about to rape a soul-sister, or kill a soul-brother.

The white press and white bigots especially love seeing prominent blacks anguish over black-on-black crime, because it bolsters their slanders that ''those blacks are the problem.'' It undergirds their arguments that nature made every black male a likely rapist, mugger or murderer.

This futile black anguish blinds most of America to the very existence of millions of black teen-agers who are responsible dreamers, just like the 1,000 who will show up at the Freedom Forum today.

These youngsters can never get the media attention of a Jesse Jackson who makes a flamboyant assertion that in some areas where someone is walking behind him, he turns and is relieved to see that it is a white person.

I read Wednesday in the New York Post a declaration by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., that nothing can be done to curb teen-age crime for at least 30 years -- or until after the current huge crop of illegitimate babies has grown up.

I have deplored the increase in births out of wedlock and the dramatic rise in the number of children growing up in one-parent households. But I can never accept the notion that you can automatically predict criminality for children born out of wedlock, or for those who lack the guidance of two parents.

Of the scholars coming to the Freedom Forum today, some of the greatest intellectual achievers, the most laudable participants in church and community work, were born out of wedlock. Many have been nourished and inspired by a single parent.

Too many Americans, of all races and politics, have joined the fad of merely cursing America's social darkness. We could reduce crime, illegitimacy, racial polarization and other American woes if they would just use a dollar or two to buy and light some candles for children like those I'll be seeing today.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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