Over the summer, I visited with many African-Americans across the state and much of our conversation centered on neighborhoods. Looking at the way we lived yesterday versus today, a surprising number of people longed for life in the old communities.
Segregation not withstanding, people found their old neighborhoods safer, more cohesive, friendlier and warmer. They remember that in the old communities, young people were not standing on corners selling drugs or driving through the neighborhoods at night with gangsta rap blaring from their car windows. In those days young men and young women addressed each other in respectful terms.
What happened? While we’ll probably have to wait for history to determine that precisely, as one who lived through it and observed it as it happened, I feel competent to report on some of the factors that I feel strongly contributed to the old black neighborhood’s decline. Most people, who lived in those neighborhoods, agree.
To be sure, the closing of many black neighborhood schools contributed to the breakdown in community life. For a lot of children, being bussed across town meant being separated from family and friends and cast into institutions where they often felt intimidated. This was the beginning of the breakdown. The role of the black neighborhood school in neighborhood life cannot be overestimated. The same value system that was embraced by most black families was supported by the majority of school faculty and administration. Children knew where they stood within the context of the community and consequently they felt secure.
And finally the African-American community followed the trends of the total community where the major share of the responsibility for out-of-control youth must be laid at the feet of parents who lack good parenting skills. And so, neighborhoods in many parts of cities and towns that were once quiet, peaceful havens where people respected each other, where neighbors shared good and bad times, have become armed camps where individuals closet themselves behind locked doors often too afraid to step outside after dark.
In most of the old neighborhoods black and white, churches also offered informing voices to help guide youth on their journeys to adulthood. Many parents these days no longer attend church and many churches are unwilling to minister to young people outside their own congregations. Community organizations in many cities and towns played a major role helping youth to form wholesome lifestyles. Unfortunately, too many young people these days are left to fend for themselves and have little choice of staying out of trouble when they are left to the mercies of negative influences. In areas where families of all races, churches and good organizations still continue to foster positive role models, young people still flourish.
So what is the answer? The endangered neighborhoods can only be saved by responsible people joining forces and taking their neighborhoods back. They have to begin to identify the problems, dig out the causes and gather the necessary resources to deal with them. In far too many communities, if citizens are to retain any quality of life, parents are going to have to be dealt with firmly. They must be shown in no uncertain terms that irresponsible parenting is unacceptable and the proper authorities must have their feet held to the fire to make believers of the parents. When members of the communities are unwilling to do this, then they have to know that they are going to suffer the consequences.
Schools have to be held accountable not to the parents but to the tax-paying public. It is not their job to parent, but to educate. We cannot afford to operate country club-like jails that house the inmates until they move up to the state prisons. Nothing is going to change until citizens change it. Unless they put a stop to those creating the problems, the chances increase daily that the place they call home will become a cage where they will be forced to hide from the other animals.
Furthermore, young people who are striving to get an education and families who are working hard to maintain decent neighborhoods should not have to put up with criminals and troublemakers. We should not be in support of a social system that burdens our law enforcement agencies rather than augments them. The really great thing about living in a democratic republic is that we can change our systems.
And we need to get to work on it, right now.
You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.