MAXWELL: A FATHER’S DAY MESSAGE // Lay bricks, don’t throw them  

6/20/2004 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of The St Petersburg Times Newspaper

On this Father’s Day, Bilal Abdullah, 52, feels fortunate and unhappy at the same time. He feels fortunate that he has six children, 20 grandchildren and a wife whose love and respect he enjoys. He also feels fortunate that he and his wife, Najiyyah, are self-employed. They own and operate Shaheeds A&I Wears Inc. in St. Petersburg’s Skyway Plaza, 1047 62nd Ave. S.

But Abdullah, a Muslim and a former high school social sciences teacher, has concerns about life in Midtown. He recently spoke with Times columnist Bill Maxwell about his greatest concern.

You have managed a business on the south side of St. Petersburg and lived here for the last two years. What do you see as the most serious problem in the area?

After listening to many people, I feel that the residents are crying out for us to be better parents. Where are the parents _ especially the fathers? It’s a fair and honest question. This is in no way an effort to put down anyone. It’s a plea.

A week ago, I attended a community forum at the Wildwood Recreation Center that was sponsored by a City Council member, and parenting was discussed. I sincerely commend this effort. I am part of another group of concerned citizens. We held a panel discussion (recently) at the Enoch D. Davis Center, and we talked about parenting. There are voices in this city that need to be heard.

What is the role of religion in the parenting problem you talk about?

I’m a firm believer that God has enjoined upon children to honor and respect their parents. Although God has made parents’ authority over their children great, God has given the children great rights, as well. Children have the right to a good education, a good moral upbringing and just and fair treatment. One of the bad social phenomena in some families is that parents do not treat their children fairly.

Some of us, fathers and mothers, are simply not there, physically, financially, or emotionally. Too many of us don’t have the parenting skills to manage or develop our children. We’re destroying our children because we don’t have the guidance ourselves. To my understanding, children start to form attitudes towards the world around them at an early age. We need to give our children all our love, nurturing and time if we want them to be self-confident, creative and productive.

We need to prepare them to receive the blessings ahead of them. We should guide them to be bricklayers _ not brick throwers.

At age 52 and with six children and 20 grandchildren, you’ve seen the status and behavior of black children evolve. What are the biggest changes?

A: Back in the day, children were more polite, less intimidating, eager to be respectful, not daring to raise their voice at an older person. Now, we see a change in too many of our children. If I had thrown a brick through a storefront window because I was angry and frustrated, my father and/or mother would have whupped my butt. Afterward, they would’ve shown me a better way to express myself.

A St. Petersburg Times article a few days ago reported that new statistics show that the achievement gap between white and black children in Pinellas County is so serious that it might not disappear for 30 years. Many blacks blame the schools for this crisis. What would you say to these people?

A disproportionate number of our children have learned to hate learning. Too many children and parents have developed some kind of allergy to books. Well, now that the school year is over for the summer, many of us probably will let our children spend the next three months doing absolutely as little as possible. We parents tend to blame our young ones for their inability to synthesize information, which only adds to their low self-esteem. We have not encouraged them academically. Too many of our kids have not been given a chance to see what they can really do.

In today’s rapid-paced life, we often get so busy that we forget our parental responsibilities. Family values have significantly dropped in our lives, and our friends and jobs often become more important to us than our children.

You have identified many serious problems, and you said that you are asking African-Americans to become more responsible parents and citizens. Can you outline for me what blacks can do to improve matters?

I’m willing right now to join the workers, the doers. Let’s do something. Let’s re-establish the spirit of working together. It all begins with dialogue. We need to communicate, even if we don’t agree, even if we dislike each other. We have made it an ugly habit to just argue and complain and not dispense or offer any effort to help improve the community.

Fact is, we’re in this together, and the answers that can heal us are within us collectively. I look to no one person for all the answers. As a businessman, a citizen of St. Petersburg and a parent and a grandparent, I implore my fellow black residents to somehow formulate an avenue for serious, effective dialogue.

It does take a village to raise our children. We need to talk and listen to each other. The welfare of our community, our future, depends on it. So, I appeal to the leaders: How do we begin to solve the problems among us?

Could it be that those of us who are leaders aren’t really hearing the cries of the people _ especially the cries of our children and grandchildren?