Courage to Fight Ignorance Without: Become a Bridge to Change
“Much is required from those to whom much is given,
for their responsibility is greater.” Luke 12:48, TLB
The true purpose of education is not to help us live as elitists. It’s to teach us how to lift up the underserved. As Dr. King said, some black people sailed out of the muddy waters of poverty and found their way into the fresh waters of the mainstream … but then they forgot the stench of the muddy waters.
Dr. King’s social ethic was rooted in his strong commitment to his faith. From his perspective, only a dry religion provokes a minister to exalt the beauty of heaven while ignoring the community conditions that create an earthly hell.
My parents had a strong commitment to their faith and cultural community, so I was also going to church on a regular basis. There, I learned the story of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10) The social ethic of Jesus can be traced to this parable.
In the story, a man has been badly beaten and left for dead on a dangerous road. A priest and a Levite, religious and famous leaders of the day, passed by and did not stop to give aid. But a man of another race stopped to help the injured man.
Many people today, like the priest and the Levite, will see people out in public who need assistance and keep on walking. A common sentiment that I hear is, “I can’t stop to help this person. Something might happen to me.”
While there is prudence in protecting ourselves, we also must ask, “If I don’t stop to help, what will happen to them?”
· What will happen to the one in three black boys scheduled to go to jail or prison, according the Bureau of Justice?
· What will happen to the seven out of ten fatherless children in American cities?
· What will happen to the one in three women and one in six men who live with the pain of the experience of childhood sexual abuse?
· What will happen to the one in four Americans living with mental illness?
· What will happen to the black families living below the poverty line?
· What will happen to the 10,000 people released each week from prison, where the total population hovers at 2.3 million?
· What will happen to those grade school and high school students who are not reading or computing up to their grade level?
What stands out the most to me are the number of innocent black boys and men who have been derailed by the system of injustice. As of 2019, black people represent 13% of America's population, yet 50% of exonerations (people found innocent) are black people. Studies show that 2 - 5% of the prison population has been wrongly convicted. There are so many examples, but seventeen-year-old Kalief Browder comes to mind. Kalief was falsely accused of stealing a backpack on May 15, 2010. Police stopped Kalief on his way home from a party and told him he would be brought to the police station and released. That didn’t happen.
He was taken to the precinct and subsequently charged with robbery, grand larceny, and assault. Unfortunately, the first bail amount of $3,000 was beyond his means. Once he was in the system, he was denied bail and transferred to Riker's Island Jail. He was held there for three years before the prosecutors offered a plea deal where he would get credit for time served. Out of a sense of integrity, he rejected the plea deal.
Kalief was sent back to Rikers Island. Eventually, the prosecutors dismissed the charges, after Kalief refused another plea deal. Two of the three years he served, he was kept in solitary confinement, which caused him significant mental and emotional distress. In addition, jail footage shows that he was abused by correctional officers and other inmates.
Kalief was released, but his mental and emotional health had been injured. He committed suicide on June 6, 2015.
This is one of the reasons I go to the local prisons and detention centers to volunteer. I know many young black men who have been so traumatized by being incarcerated it becomes increasingly difficult to not succumb to stress and fear when engaging with law enforcement. They don’t know how to not look like a suspect, and they don’t know how to speak to the police, which can escalate these situations.
Personally, I don’t believe that most police officers proactively seek to injure black people—but a presumption of guilt exists for black men in this country. That can make it uncomfortable and nerve-wracking for us to even leave home.
We need culturally relevant solutions that can largely be determined by grassroots work. Remember, the farther away you are from a problem, the simpler the solution appears.
I don’t mean to say that every person should physically relocate to a disadvantaged community, but it might be a calling for some people.
I chose to get closer to the problems, and now these are some of the changes I want to see.
What Would I Like to See Change?
America is in many ways better, but it’s not good yet. We can begin to visualize the change we need if we turn to black artists who help us chart the course. American singer, songwriter, and activist Nina Simone taught us that the artist is called upon to reflect the current times. American author, teacher and poet Amiri Baraka taught us that the artist’s job is to raise the consciousness of the people. To add to the feelings of these amazing icons, I believe the role of the artist is to project a new reality. And we must all heed their words if we are to create a better reality for our communities.
Our identity is rooted not only in what we know about ourselves, but what we are willing to learn about what we could be. Some of the things we want to happen are things that we’ve never seen before. In our minds, we can be residents of a world that does not yet exist.
Here’s what I want to see happen:
1. Financial Literacy/Economic Mobility
2. Proactive Brotherhood
3. Constant visible occupational diversity
4. Ending the Notion of “Acting White”
5. Black Men’s Refusal to Downgrade their Aspirations
6. Changing the Responsibility Mindset
Financial Literacy/Economic Mobility
As of 2019, the average black family in New Jersey has a net worth of $5,900, while the average white family has a net worth of $309,000. I envision black families with enough disposable financial resources to handle a situation like the one I Kalief was in. Many issues we face are not only or always racial in nature. They are often economic. If families had the resources to obtain adequate legal counsel or find bail, maybe would haven’t the criminal justice system we have today.
New Jersey leads the nation in racial disparity in its prisons. In 2016, for every white adult, there are twelve black adults incarcerated. For every white youth, there are thirty black youth behind bars. More than 90 percent of people in prison havenever had a trial. Many of them lacked the resources to hire a competent defense attorney. (See Chapter 10 – Collateral Consequences of a Felony in The Bridge to Change (Go to www.thebridge330.com to pick up a copy).
I become brothers with the men I meet in prison because we share a similar struggle on this land. But we should also become brothers because we share a similar destiny and objective.
As Carter G. Woodson discussed in The Miseducation of the Negro, the free blacks in the 18th and 19th centuries were often advised to go back to Africa—but they didn’t go. Instead, they chose to never separate from the enslaved blacks in America, because they saw themselves as brothers and descendants of the same ancestors.
Woodson also said this spirit has deteriorated. The purpose of education should be to facilitate the development of a mature mind that serves others—not to obtain an elitist status.
Constant Visible Occupational Diversity
I envision a time when black youth are consistently being exposed to diverse occupations and given a pathway to pursue vocational training.
As American politician and sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan discussed in his 1965 report, The Negro Family – The Case for National Action—specifically in the fourth section, called “The Tangle of Pathology”—many black youth are fatherless and grow up in broken homes in underserved communities. Those young men are not seeing examples of men, friends, relatives, or neighbors who prioritize work and education.
As a result, young black people didn’t see the tangible results of hard work, creativity, and persistence. Unfortunately, the situation is similar today. Things are changing for the better, but black youth still need more opportunities to see role models who look like them in diverse occupations. Ideally, these professionals can provide mentoring, resources, encouragement, direction, and a clear path to receiving training. See Chapter 9 – Models and Mentors of Bridge the Gaps. Visit www.amazon.com or www.thebridg330.com to pick up a copy.
Ending the Notion of “Acting White”
We need a new identity to promote the positive—getting rid of the notion of “acting white”.
I envision a time when black communities, particularly underserved and traumatized communities, will cultivate new identities so that young people are not pressured to underachieve to belong.
We are designed to be part of community, and if the community doesn’t provide us with a healthy value system, it becomes a dangerous place to live. Harvard professor Roland Fryer discussed this in his research paper “Acting White.”
Just as it takes time for individuals to find out who they are, the same is true for communities. It takes a community time to rediscover its purpose and find a mission. The process is less about individual success or competence and more about cultural healing and collective success. See the chapter entitled “Courage – Fear of Breaking the Rules” in The Bridge to Change. Visit www.amazon.com or www.thebridg330.com to pick up a copy.
Black Men’s Refusal to Downgrade their Aspirations
We can talk about length about the right way to discuss the white “boogeyman” that induces an inferiority in black people vs. the realities of racial inequality in the world, particularly with young black men.
The reality is that if you are black and you want to climb the ladder to career success or pursue an entrepreneurial endeavor, you may experience a constant sense that you are being judged before you arrive or there is an added burden to represent your race properly. In my experience, it’s almost inescapable. Your advocates may even warn you that there are prejudiced white people in power who won’t want to see you rise in the ranks or become part of their club. Black people have the same value as everyone else but are not in the same condition because of injustice and neglect.
Whatever your opinion is on the matter, we need to ensure that all black men feel equipped and free to pursue their ambition the same way any other man would, with wisdom and counsel shaping their plans.
Changing the Responsibility Mindset
When things are bad, people often attack each other rather than attacking the problem. Black people might point out the unfairness of racial injustice in hopes that doing so will spur someone else into action. They say, “Somebody should do something!” I want to replace that hopeful comment with firm resolve: “Here’s what I’m going to do.”
My Contribution: Bridge the Gaps Book Clubs
For several years, I’ve run multiweek Bridge the Gaps book clubs throughout my community. Bridge the Gaps is a personal development guide. This book club is designed to create a safe space for us to speak deeper levels of truths, go deeper into our self-reflection, and set personally meaningful goals to be productive. We strive to create an environment that teaches us the practical tools of love.
Part of the healing process is refusing to remain comfortable with dysfunction. If there is to be any change in the conditions of the black community, we must heal the standards and raise our expectations. These issues will not be solved by money, but by relationships with people committed to truth, love, and justice. We are hurt in community, but we are also healed in community.
If we are to see positive change, we all need to be equipped with tools to cultivate communities where people can do their best and process their experiences in a healthy way. For this task, we need safe, mature, courageous, and committed leaders. We can’t let our pain or our conditioning dictate our destiny.
If you are interested in a Bridge the Gaps Book Club, visit the site – www.thebridge330.com/bookclub to receive the book club guidelines. Now tell me how you are going to help heal your community.
Complete this phrase: Here’s what I’m going to do:
If you look at the journey of black Americans who are successful, you will see missteps, failures, and poor judgment at points, as well as relationship breakdowns, regrets, and character flaws. You’ll also see a willingness to re-evaluate, apologize when wrong, and acknowledge their mistakes—and most importantly, a willingness to seek and accept mentorship, and to in turn mentor others.
I say this because when you take the time to share your successes and mistakes with those coming behind you, you can greatly increase their odds of success and give people the courage to move forward after making a mistake. If you have achieved success, your journey has been difficult—but you survived. When you are a mentor, the pain you endured on the road to success can become a gift to others.
As men, we are to take responsibility for the welfare of our respective communities. We are always both individuals and part of a community—and as black Americans, the odds are often stacked against us.
Individualism says, “I want to beat the odds.”
Collectivism says, “I want to change the odds.”
FINAL WORD: What you build, you must defend. Here are a few reminders/principles to keep in mind for the journey ahead.
1. Live for your purpose on purpose.
Be militant about your purpose. Develop a clear focus of your mission. (See Chapter 9). Weak men will forget what they set out to do in the first place and lose self-control.
a. “A soldier who is fighting does not live the way other people do. He wants to please the one who chose him.” 2 Timothy 2:4, WE
b. “Like a city with breached walls is a man without self-control.” Proverbs 25:28, ISV
2. Let Your Purpose Decide What You Will or Won’t Do
Your purpose tells you what you will do and what you won't do. Get rid of anything that might destroy your character or sabotage your purpose. The most important question should not be “What’s wrong with this or that being included in my life? Why can’t I have it?” The question should be, “What’s right with it? Why do I need it?” Don’t allow your strength to be compromised by recklessly exposing yourself to temptation. You will never have a time in your life when you are free from temptation. If you live in reaction to your fear, anger, and lust, you will sabotage your destiny.
a. “But be like the Lord Jesus Christ, so that when people see what you do, they will see Christ. Don’t think about how to satisfy the desires of your sinful self.” Romans 13:14, ERV
b. “Do not spend your strength on women, your vigor on those who ruin kings.” Proverbs 31:3, NIV
c. “Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts.” 2 Timothy 2:22, NLT
3. Know that people will try to frustrate your purpose.
“Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. They bribed officials to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia.” Ezra 4:4-5, NIV
4. Remain calm and do not be afraid.
Fear and intimidation is a trap that holds you back. But when you place your confidence in the Lord, you will be seated in the high place. Proverbs 29:25, TPT
5. Help people make good choices, give people good choices to make, and protect the next generation from attacks from enemies. If a man loves his community, there are certain things that cannot happen on his watch.
a. “‘But if the watchman sees war coming and doesn’t blow the trumpet, warning the people, and war comes and takes anyone off, I’ll hold the watchman responsible for the bloodshed of any unwarned sinner.’ Ezekiel 33:6, MSG
b. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” John 10:11-13, MSG
6. Don’t be a Chatty Patty.
Avoid pointless conversations that only lead to conflict, gossip, and foolish actions or decisions. Be mindful of your own speech and deliberate in your choice of words.
a. “Avoid pointless discussions. People who pay attention to these pointless discussions will become more ungodly.” 2 Timothy 2:16, NOG
b. “Stay away from all the foolish arguments of the immature, for these disputes will only generate more conflict.” 2 Timothy 2:23, TPT
c. “A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid anyone who talks too much.” Proverbs 20:19, NIV
7. Stop the Foolishness and check yourself so no one else has to.
The particular areas where men have to be mindful include relationships, finances, career, and health. A fool refuses to learn from his past mistakes. He makes choices about the future too impulsively. A fool makes decisions blindly.
a. “Like a dog that returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats foolish mistakes.” Proverbs 26:11, CEB
b. “A prudent man foresees the difficulties ahead and prepares for them; the simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.” Proverbs 22:3, TLB
c. “It is dangerous to have zeal without knowledge, and the one who acts hastily makes poor choices.” Proverbs 19:2, NET
d. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and fail to notice the plank in your own? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me get the speck out of your eye’, when there is a plank in your own? You fraud! Take the plank out of your own eye first, and then you can see clearly enough to remove your brother’s speck of dust.” Matthew 7:4, PHILLIPS
8. Apologize, Forgive, and Never Forget the Pain You Caused
Kill your ego and learn to apologize if you make a mistake. No man is above correction. Never forget the pain that you caused. Help the young men in the next generation avoid the mistakes you made and find ways to wisely guard them from the pain you experienced after you have made progress in your own healing, recovery, and positive change.
a. “Do not speak strong words to a man who laughs at the truth, or he will hate you. Speak strong words to a wise man, and he will love you.” Proverbs 9:8, NLV
b. “Let every man be quick to hear [a ready listener], slow to speak, slow to take offense and to get angry.” James 1:19, AMPC
c. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Psalm 51:3, NIV
9. Become an Asset instead of a Liability to Your Community
Work to be an authentic demonstration and representation of a man of integrity. As a man, you may not realize it, but you are a template for someone on what a man should be.
a. “Tell the older men that in anything they do, they must not go too far. They must be worthy of respect. They must control themselves. They must have true faith. They must love others. They must not give up.” Titus 2:2, NIRV
b. “In the same way, help the young men to control themselves. Do what is good. Set an example for them in everything. When you teach, be honest and serious. No one can question the truth. So teach what is true. Then those who oppose you will be ashamed. That’s because they will have nothing bad to say about us.” Titus 2:6-8, NIRV
c. “Be under obligation to no one—the only obligation you have is to love one another. Whoever does this has obeyed the Law.” Romans 13:8, GNT
d. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you. Psalm 51:12, 13, NIV
e. “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31:8-9, NIV
Our goal must be to improve the odds for others. As men, we need to believe for a future that we have not yet seen—and we must acknowledge that belief alone will not be sufficient.
We must prepare to act.