05/11/08 — Start with candor: Changing self-destructive lives takes priority shift, tough stances

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Start with candor: Changing self-destructive lives takes priority shift, tough stances

It is not easy to write what you really think, especially if politics is your business.

So even if you did not agree with what Goldsboro Mayor Al King said about the future of young black men in this community, you have to admire him for having the guts to say it.

There aren’t many people who have had the courage to discuss the reality of life for some of these young men — and young women for that matter. They haven’t wanted to discuss the destructive effect bad family lives and lack of parental guidance have on the possibilities for these children. So, they say what they think people want to hear rather than what they need to hear. They have too much to lose to really address the symptoms behind the problems of increasing dropout rates, fewer minority students in community college and increasing crime in many neighborhoods. If you want to see what happens when they do speak out — just ask comedian Bill Cosby. He is still being vilified for saying what so many people are thinking about how to change the course of the lives of these young people.

But lest you think that the words only apply to minority children, think again. There are children of all races who are struggling to overcome the obstacles of parents who have no business being parents and familiy lives that leave them thinking that there really is no hope.

But for now, the discussion should really center on what it will take to reach these young people — and what we as a community can do to reach more of them and to show them that there are possibilities they have not even thought of for their lives.

And while we are it, we should also consider what to do about parents who aren’t being parents, communities that are showing these young people that drugs are the only way out and the vicious cycle of children having children and setting a course for poverty, unemployment and tragedy.

There are many who say the key to breaking this cycle and reaching more of these young people starts with education and demanding more from students at all levels. The idea, they say, is to demand more, to expect graduation and to make darn sure that any child who leaves the third grade has the skills necessary to succeed in the fourth grade.

They also suggest that dysfunctional families deserve support and help to get out of the rut they are in, but that there should be stricter penalties for those who fail as moms and dads — and the means to make sure they cannot have any more children until they are proven to be worthy of the title of “parent.”

Getting there won’t be easy. There will have to be some tough decisions and some investments in programs, resources and expectations. A priority shift will be a must — and a tougher stance will be a prerequisite.

There will have to be a lot more leaders who are willing to stand up and be counted, to say the tough stuff no one wants to hear — even if it means that elections are a little bit more touch and go.

And it will take a community that is determined not to lose a generation of young people simply because the going is too tough.

King has started a discussion that absolutely should be continued not just on these pages, but in every corner of Wayne County. The discussions should be held in black churches, white churches, Hispanic churches and in every school PTA meeting. The ideas should come not just from politicians, but from everyday people with a stake in seeing Wayne County amount to something — and for those who either have families or are considering having families someday.

People of all ages can contribute. The only prerequisite to participate should be honesty, respect and sincerity. There is no need for a charismatic pied piper to lead us. This is a task we can tackle on our own.

And along the way, we will disagree — sometimes vehemently.

But in the end, we will accomplish something that cheering crowds and politician double-speak cannot.

We will face our problems head on and start creating a plan for a solution.

King has started the ball rolling. Now let’s see how many of the men and women who are serving and want to serve this community have the backbone to join him in the discussion — and how many of us have the courage to really listen.

Published in Editorials on May 11, 2008 12:12 AM