MAXWELL:  We have no leaders to save our black men

7/29/2001 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


“Young black men have become the most gullible creatures on the planet.”

That bold sentence came not from a Mississippi Klansman. It was written by a black newspaperman who broke ranks with silent black leaders everywhere by publicly confronting what he calls the nation’s black “Man Crisis.”

You probably have not heard of the proposed “Save the Black Man Project.” I became aware of the proposal just a few days ago. It is the brainchild of Keith A. Clayborne, owner and publisher of the Broward Times, a weekly black newspaper in my hometown of Fort Lauderdale.

In his column, “Off the Vine,” which appears on the front page, Clayborne has taken on the journalism fight of his life:

“Young black men have . . . bought into what apparently is a universal “dumbing down’ syndrome where it’s in style to be stupid _ with rap lyrics like “Where are my niggas at?’ more memorable than their ABCs. Now, give or take a few token whites, our prison system is filled to capacity with young black men _ young men who will leave behind a trail of fatherless babies, single mothers and the untold carnage from the crimes they’ve committed.

“I was astonished recently when I read a study about a city’s school system where out of nearly 6,000 African-American males in its high school, only 135 earned a B average or higher. Yet, we black people seem paralyzed to act, to mobilize _ to be outraged! We have failed miserably in addressing, for lack of a better description, “self-destruction of the black man.’ Today . . . women head 70 percent of black households! Now you tell me, how are young black boys going to learn how to be men? Folks, what we have . . . is a national crisis _ demanding the highest attention of civic, business and government leaders. I am proposing that communities across the country initiate and start a “Save the Black Man Project.’ ”

Clayborne will ask U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, who represents Clayborne’s district, to discuss this issue with his colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington, and he ask will Florida’s state black caucus to address the crisis. At this stage, Clayborne has not offered any specific steps to take. This first round is a call for honest talk.

“We need to challenge every organization in America to come to the table with a plan for saving our young black men,” Clayborne wrote.

Too many young black males are not only letting their minds rot from intellectual inactivity, they are succumbing to street violence of their own invention and other kinds of criminality.

Recent events in the Tampa Bay area, where I live and work, cry out for the implementation of Clayborne’s proposal. On July 22, two black 16-year-olds, one toting a shotgun, went on a 2 {-hour crime rampage in Tampa. They carried out three carjackings, three attempts to rob businesses, assaulted bystanders, seriously wounding one with a rock to the head, and generally terrorized many people. In the end, a store owner shot one of the boys, thus ending the madness.

On July 25, in St. Petersburg, gunmen fired at least 30 assault rifle rounds at a house in the part of town with a long history of black-male-on-black-male violence. Police say the attack was to avenge the shooting death of a 16-year-old the previous night. Innocent victims, including several small children, were nearly shot during the assault rifle attack.

In every part of the nation _ Miami, Cincinnati, Chicago, Newark, Los Angeles, New York, New Orleans, Houston, Atlanta _ many black males seem determined to self-destruct.

We will not gain ground by blaming whites for this sorry state of affairs. This is a crisis of our own making, and only we can fix it. Our collective lethargy _ our lack of rage _ is the greatest sin. Fixing this problem should be at the top of every black person’s agenda.

Instead of fretting about how many black faces pop up in network sitcoms, the NAACP, for example, should join Clayborne in sounding the alarm _ not quietly and politely, but loudly and passionately. We need to stop worrying about angering this or that group, this or that big shot. The situation is too serious for such concerns. We should dare to be “Uncle Toms” and “sellouts” by speaking out against this mass insanity.

What about the Southern Leadership Conference that was co-founded by the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? As far as I can tell, it is doing next to nothing to address the black man crisis. In fact its president, Martin Luther King III, was recently suspended for being a do-nothing leader. Wearing smart suits, he sashays around the country delivering speeches that do not amount to a hill of beans. He should be tackling the anti-intellectualism and violence among young African-American males.

Then we have the Rev. Al Sharpton, who apparently believes that a U.S. Air Force bombing range in Puerto Rico is more important than the black male carnage in Harlem and Jersey City.

I am disappointed with black leadership everywhere, at all levels. The only thing worse than their inaction is their cowardly silence.

Clayborne’s proposal should become reality. Education _ real learning and respect for learning _ lies at the center of his effort. If we want to survive as a viable race (no exaggeration), we must halt the “dumbing down” syndrome. Being stupid must stop being in style.

Here, I am reminded of something the Rev. King said a year before his death: “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

Sincere ignorance. Conscientious stupidity. Besides Clayborne, are any black leaders listening? “Ask yourself what role you can play in addressing this challenge,” he wrote. “We’re going to continue to explore this issue in coming (issues) of the Broward Times.”

Clayborne can count me in.