MAXWELL:  Black people hurt themselves by vandalizing, neglecting their communities

3/5/2000 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


Throughout the nation, self-destructiveness continues to trap many black communities in poverty and crime. This self-destructiveness is expressed in many ways, but three of the most telling manifestations of it are vandalism, theft and the refusal to donate money to black causes.

Monetary costs aside, the long-term damage of these phenomena can be measured by the degradation heaped upon adults, the fear instilled in outsiders _ especially potential investors _ and the sense of hopelessness adopted by far too many children.

Here in St. Petersburg, where I live and work, vandals and thieves struck with a vengeance the other night, derailing, at least temporarily, a self-help entrepreneurial project that would help hundreds of residents if it can get off the ground.

The old Yellow Cab Co. building, in a blighted area, had been vacant for several years when Rodney Bennett and others reopened it as a non-profit business and training center. Although the organization, called New Beginnings, is struggling to find money, it manages to provide jobs for young people and offers inexpensive vehicle services. Soon, Bennett, who volunteers his time, wants to offer service and training in computer repair, and he wants to start a community radio station.

But some area thugs gave Bennett and others in the group a dose of reality by breaking every large window facing the side street, pulling light fixtures from their sockets, vandalizing and overturning desks, ripping the alarm system from the wall and ripping doors off their hinges. The thugs went outside and damaged several recreation vehicles and buses that were being restored, and they stole thousands of dollars in furniture and appliances.

Needless to say, these acts are a morale killer. And the irony is obvious.

“Some of the kids who did this are probably some of the kids we’d be trying to help,” Bennett told the Times. “Some of these kids have too much time on their hands. … I can’t say bad kids did bad things. Unfortunately, for what they’ve done, they’ve hurt a serious community effort. This kind of thing really set us back.”

Perhaps these are not “bad kids.” But they certainly did a bad thing, an act indicative of a do-nothing attitude that blocks progress in many black communities nationwide.

New Beginnings could be a valuable incubator for many offshoot businesses if it were supported by black residents, especially those who have money. Instead, black residents are doing what they too often do _ nothing.

Following riots in 1996 that left many businesses destroyed or damaged, a flurry of activity occurred at the local, state and national level to assist the area. Since then, however, the old behaviors and attitudes have returned. Not enough middle-class blacks, who are beyond living from check to check, are pitching in to help take care of their own. Even though many of these people were born and reared in St. Petersburg, they lack a sense of owning and nurturing their old turf.

Self-help organizations, such as New Beginnings, are forced to go outside the black community to get support, financial and otherwise. And, more often than not, they must go to white people. This is not the way matters should be. Blacks should be the biggest benefactors in black communities. Black children should see adults writing checks so that giving _ instead of vandalizing and stealing _ will become a natural part of their lives.

A newly established private school in St. Petersburg’s black community is illustrative of black stinginess. Academy Prep was founded more than two years ago by a white couple and a black couple. Because I am a mentor at the school, I know a lot about it. One thing I know is that the overwhelming majority of the school’s donors are white people.

One of the best things that can happen at the school is for the black students to see many more black names on the roster of donors. Think of the wonderful lesson the kids would learn.

Meanwhile, the New Beginnings, the Academy Preps and other organizations in the nation’s black communities must go begging to outsiders.

The lack of giving by blacks is especially shameful because many have the money, the time, the knowledge and the expertise to improve the places where they live.