Friday, December 14, 2007

Gettin' Out of the 'Hood

I've noted on several occassions - in my posts on black politics - that it's vital for African-Americans to escape the crime, violence, poverty, and social disorganization of the inner-cities.

The crisis of the black community is a difficult topic to discuss, especially when so much of the African-American community continues to cling to the 1960s-era agenda of civil rights activism based on the ideology of oppression.

Thus Breea Willingham's brief essay today at USA Today is like a powerful gust of fresh air. Here's her commentary, in its entirety:

My younger brother, Josh, had plans earlier this year to join the Army. He had vowed to be a better father to his newborn son than his father was to him. The military, he figured, was his best option.

Fearing Josh would be sent straight to the front lines in Iraq, my mother wasn't happy about his decision. His response: I'd rather die fighting a war in Iraq than on the streets of Philadelphia.

I understood and respected Josh's commitment to his son. I was proud of him. Yet he was stabbed during a dispute before he could make it to basic training, ending any Army career. He survived, but he's still fighting a common battle: that of a young black man trying to find a way out of "the hood." I couldn't help but think of my brother when I heard about the death of
Washington Redskins star Sean Taylor. Though they lived very different lives, my brother's struggles echo that of Taylor, who left an 18-month-old child behind.

My brother has been in and out of jail for non-violent infractions. He's studying to be a barber and plans to move to Atlanta. I hope he gets out in time because I worry that the streets, or prisons, will take another brother from me. My older brother, Rodney, is already serving a life sentence. I want Josh's son to one day be able to look up to a successful father, not see one behind bars.

People often ask me how I managed to get out of the neighborhood and not follow a similar destructive path. I don't really know. My brothers and I grew up in the same house, raised by the same mother. With little money, we all had temptations to go down the wrong path. I think my brothers, like many black people, fall into a self-defeatist mode and believe all they can be is a victim. The hopelessness and despair in the black community are ever present in the media, so is it any wonder so many young black men feel they can't get out? I know Josh wants a better life. But he, like many black men, feels stuck.

And me, I feel trapped between two worlds. I don't fit in at home anymore because I'm seen as "changed." In the small rural town where I now live, I don't quite fit in, always struggling with my own identity crises.

I suppose I should wear my "getting out" badge with honor, but how can I when so many other black women and men are left behind? Or when my family saw my pursuit of a career as abandonment of them?

These are the hurdles — some physical, many emotional — that many young black men and women face every day in inner cities, but all hope is not lost. There is still time for them — Josh included — to get out.

That's what it's going to take.

Willingham's brother was almost there, before he was nearly killed. How many more young blacks are struck down before they have a chance to realize their dreams of opportunity and upward mobility by gettin' out of the 'hood?

It's disturbing that Willingham herself feels shame for successully moving up and out.

Share this story with people when they want to tell you "it's all institutional racism."

See more on black politics, here, here, here, and here.