Across the nation, from coast to coast, from border to border, we find youngsters engaged in urban, neighborhood wars, often with bystanders the collateral damages of warfare between regional gangs, or, increasingly, drug clans, battling for turf.
I’ve been asked by several readers to address the issue, but, ’til now, I’ve hesitated, for I too, have wondered what to say. So, I’ve thought; I’ve studied; I’ve meditated on how these brief words could work some spark of change in our beleaguered communities.
It’s not easy being a youth in a nation that worships youth, but doesn’t really like young people. That trouble more than doubles when it comes to Black youth, who are seen as perpetual problems, to be profiled, tracked, boot-camped, and imprisoned, almost from birth.
Unlike most old heads, I’ve not forgotten my youth, but often look back to it, to see, to sense, to taste, to smell, what being young meant. I hope it gives me some insight into the problems, and challenges faced by young folks.
Believe it or not, I actually feel quite lucky that I was young during the time of social movements like the Black Panther Party, where I was constantly surrounded by older brothers and sisters who taught me, loved me, and cared for me.
To be young and alive today is to not have that resource available.
San Francisco’s brilliant Black poet, Marvin X, writes movingly about the plight of youth alienation from the community, in his recent collection of essays, In the Crazy House Called America (Cherokee, Ca.: Black Bird Press, 2006):
“I am mortified at my own pain and that of my many comrades, men and women, who are attempting to deal with out-of-control children, especially and mostly young males. Some of these males have broken down their parents emotionally, have terrified them physically, and overwhelming the parents with psychopathic behavior, such as rage and
the inclination and determination to engage in criminal activity.
“These youth are so inclined to the criminal life that even when they suffer multiple wounds from gunshots, they are emboldened rather than humbled, believing their survival is a sign and badge of invincibility.
“As parents, we wonder what we did wrong, although some of us know we weren’t there when our sons and daughters needed us most. Some of us may have been busy with ‘revolution,’ as if revolution is apart from saving our children. Of course such thinking is clearly a form of mental derangement, at the very least a grand delusion and thus we
suffer trauma when our children confront us with their abominable behavior, and we are overwhelmed in seeking a solution. We send the children into exile back East or down South, we let the criminal justice system work its hand, we attend their funerals, but most of all, we know not what to do but pray. But no mystery god will answer our prayers –
often and usually, things go from bad to worse — even death does not end our pain, for there is no closure, never, ever.” [p. 14]
The words of Marvin X could very well be our words, for they reflect a deep, bitter truth, whether we are in Harlem or Houston, San Francisco or Baltimore .
I’m convinced that organization, something that truly and authentically engages youth, is the only thing that can break through the madness that currently pervades youth consciousness.
No external force can, or will, reach them with anything positive enough to turn their faces to the light.
Everyday, millions of them imbibe psychic poison that convinces them that they are nothing, but prison fodder, or cannon fodder for pointless imperial wars.
Only Black mass movements, of conscious youth, and energetic elders, can touch them, and transform them into a social force for the continuing freedom struggle.
As has been said too often, ‘Only we can save ourselves.’
Partly, in this era of declining industry, we can see the economic basis that forces such alienation.
But we know it is more than that.
All young people want to belong to something greater than themselves; that’s the deep, psychological impetus that leads some to gang life.
We must build something worthy of them, again.
That is our challenge. That is our duty. That is our only way out of this dark tunnel of self-destruction.
And, lest we trip, no solution looks remotely like these hellholes, which is itself, a part of the problem.
Copyright 2006 Mumia Abu-Jamal