By John Horton

“It is impossible to pretend that you are not heir to, and therefore, however inadequately or unwillingly, responsible to, and for, the time and place that give you life – without becoming, at very best, a dangerously disoriented human being.” (S) James Baldwin

“What happens to a dream deferred? Does it, too, dry up like a raisin in the sun?” (S) Langston Hughes

Recently, it has been all over the news about the ongoing gun violence and criminal behavior of some young black males. In one week alone, (August 22 – 29), ten people were shot and five killed, including one in a stabbing. These violent acts have been committed by black youth against other black youth.  So far this year, over thirty people have been killed in Norfolk. To quote Norfolk police chief Larry Boone: “No one seems to care – at least not enough. Nobody bats an eye. Shame on us!”

According to local data and police statistics, black men were victims in 71% of Norfolk’s approximately 450 homicides from 2006 – 2017. Moreover, in that same timeframe, roughly 320 killings in which police arrested someone, that suspect was black 78% of the time. In recent years, black men are either suspect or victim in approximately 93% to 94% of shootings in Norfolk, according to Chief Boone.

Meantime, Chief Boone wants to form a committee to address this public health crisis of young, black men and gun violence. He wants judges, lawyers, police, mentors, school officials, mental health practitioners, medical professionals, and concerned others to be a part of addressing and eradicating this problem.

As an African-American male of 79 years, I am deeply concerned about the failure of some black men to do the right thing and to deny responsibility for their actions.  Collectively, we are capable of “doing the right thing,” and we should be held accountable and responsible for doing as much. Our manhood and our personhood demand this much of us. As James Baldwin so eloquently espoused: “It is impossible to pretend that you are not heir to, and therefore, however inadequately or unwillingly, responsible to, and for, the time and place that give you life – without becoming, at very best, a dangerously disoriented human being.”

I understand that African Americans, particularly its males, have needs and concerns that are distinctly different from the rest of American society.  Our struggle has always been a difficult (and unique) battle against the odds in the face of a storm not necessarily of our making.  However, regardless of how our conditions came about, we are our solutions for what ails us as a people.  If it is to be, it is up to us.

What bothers me greatly is that too many black folks are “catching hell” in today’s society.  We have done a lot, but we haven’t done enough.  Even now, black men continue to suffer disproportionately from violence and crime.  Further, black men continue to be debilitated by substance abuse and poor health habits.  Because of this and other counterproductive behaviors, our rightful roles as parents, protectors and providers are negatively affected.

It has been said, “The ruin of a nation begins in the homes of its people.”  Recent government and other reliable statistics report that nearly 70% of all black children are being raised without their biological fathers being in the home, married to their mothers.  Also, over 70% of all black children are born out of wedlock.  This nonsense has to stop.  We have to make better choices.  And, we must remember that our choices, not our circumstances, will determine our destiny.

Therefore, we must create a special meaning and promote a new beginning for us.  Basically, it will require a grass roots approach for empowering our families and communities.  In its beginnings, this needs to be an in-house and self-help movement.  We need to have a more comprehensive understanding of the fates and forces that debilitate us.  While many of these obstacles are challenging and complex, they can be overcome. We must learn to work harder and smarter to get the job done. We must be(come) “winners,” for failure is not an option when it comes to these matters.

Black men, hard working, family-oriented men of character and integrity must be at the forefront of resolving our social, economic and political dilemmas.  To quote Marcus Garvey, “We are the lions and leaders of yesterday…We have been great before…And, we will be great again.”  As black men and fathers, we must give our children a safe, sound and stable environment in which to grow and flourish.  Otherwise, we will have betrayed them and ourselves with broken promises and unfulfilled futures.

If we do this right, we can begin to live our dreams…to fulfill our hopes and aspirations.  It has been said, “The saddest words of tongue and pen are these – what might have been.”  Or, as Langston Hughes so eloquently put it, “What happens to a dream deferred?  Does it, too, dry up like a raisin in the sun?”  By exerting a willingness and enthusiasm to be(come) all that we can, we can substantially improve ourselves, families, communities, and the nation at large.

Collectively, we have to show a willingness to know something, to be smart, to be curious, and to be willing to learn and accomplish a lot more.  While the world we inhabit may not be all fair or just, we must be willing to try…and try…and try.  We must learn to give life our all.  We must never quit on ourselves!  As the genesis of humanity, we owe it to ourselves to reach our rightful place in today’s world.  We owe it to our ancestors, we owe it to our present situation, and we owe it to our future.  This is the invaluable and everlasting “lesson to be learned.”

For the sake of African Americans, we need to look at the larger agenda of individual responsibility, family stability, group cohesion, and collective empowerment.  There is so much that needs to be done.  And, we have to start somewhere.  To make this happen, we must build a solid foundation from which to uplift ourselves…all of us and not just the few.

To get things started, we could focus on such remedies as: (1) involving parents, especially “missing fathers”; (2) planting seeds of self-esteem and group empowerment early on; and (3) contributing our time, skills, knowledge, monies and leadership, allowing it to happen for “all of us.”  What a glorious reaction and memorable consequence that would be…for us and the nation.

As black men, it would allow us to become the “lions and leaders” of our families and communities.  It would give us an opportunity to put words and promises into actions and deeds. In essence, I profoundly believe that black men are brave enough, strong enough, tough enough, committed enough, and smart enough to get the job done. All we need to do is put our heads, hearts, minds, backs and souls into the tasks that lie before us.

In closing, this is our “test of character.” And character is what occurs when the spotlight has been turned off and there is no applause or recognition to be rendered.  Accordingly, we must ensure that the flame is lit, the torch is passed, and the fire burns brightly. For, in the end, this “test of character” will determine whether we are truly committed to our survival and success as a people and all that it engenders. We are capable! We can do this!