Black Caucus encourages youth to aim high

Hip-hop music to civics discussed at workshop

October 24, 2003|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

They weren't sitting in classrooms learning algebra or history yesterday, but about 250 students from across the state got a valuable lesson on life when they spent time in Annapolis with members of the state's Legislative Black Caucus.

In workshops that ranged from hip-hop music to civic responsibility, the predominantly African-American students were told that, despite society's often low expectations of them, they can succeed and avoid the pitfalls that drugs and violence bring.

"I'm raising two black boys in America in 2003, in a culture that says by the time they're 21 they'll either be dead or in jail," Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele told dozens of children, many of whom moaned at the notion. "Grab the opportunity to get an education and to be the next Ben Carson."

Steele spoke to the students after they spent about 30 minutes discussing the merits of hip-hop music. He encouraged them to lead lives that make a difference, invoking the likes of Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Carson, the world-famous pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

"You're smart, talented, gifted, focused, aggressive and determined," Steele told the kids. "Also be passionate and concerned and committed. What I'm asking you to do is be leaders, because success will come."

Steele told them about his father, an alcoholic who was abusive and died at age 36, and about his mother, a laundry worker who sometimes labored 10 hours a day. Just as he has succeeded in life, Steele told the students, they could, too.

However, he didn't sugarcoat things for the high school students but instead shared sobering statistics: "One million black men are in jail," he said. "And 1.5 million black men and women are on parole right now."

The statistics scared Spencer Williams, 15, a Lake Clifton High School sophomore.

"I think it's really terribly harsh for them to end up in jail or dead, like he said," Spencer said. The teen-ager added that he thought the workshop was worthwhile.

Initially, the students gave Steele a lukewarm reception, but after Lamarr Darnell Shields told them they would clap much louder if they were at a rap concert featuring 50 Cent or Nelly, they rose to their feet and cheered and clapped wildly.

Shields and David Miller, both of the Urban Leadership Institute, served as facilitators for the event. They led the session on hip-hop music, but the daylong event also included sessions on civic engagement and goal setting.

Some pupils from Lombard Middle School read poetry from a book they published last summer with Miller's help. The Lombard pupils had planned to perform a skit in which they talked about Angela and Carnell Dawson and their five children, who were killed in an arson last year. Props included yellow police tape and a body outlined on the floor, but a lack of time prevented them from performing.

Many students stared at the body outlined in tape on the burgundy carpet. One boy told Miller he has seen a real version before.

Miller and Shields hope the session will make a difference in the children's lives. Reaching today's youth should be a concern for everyone, they said.

"Children will continue to die and continue to get pregnant until adults step up and work with these kids," Miller said.

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