The headlines and photos and television news stories of innocent children dying in African-American communities by senseless violence reflects madness that has become a tragic norm. Parents and grandparents bury their children who are victims. I am certain that outside the community, this insanity portrayed on the nightly news looks spectacular and bizarre. How do people live sanely when the abnormal becomes the norm? The answer is we don’t.
A promising young high school senior is shot weeks before graduation, capping a violent school year for Chicago Public School students. Another student is killed at a store, while another Percy Julian student is slain on a bus. An Irish Catholic priest speaks to the pain of the South Side community at two funerals for the students one week apart. A 15-year-old Austin high school student is brutally raped and beaten in a public alley-barely 50 people show up at a community meeting in response.
Children have been killed by stray bullets coming into their homes in Englewood and Humboldt Park. Recently, children on the North Side during a school march marked the 16th anniversary of 7-year-old Dantrell Davis’ shooting. A recent Sun-Times newspaper series concludes that inner-city children’s primary fear is getting shot. Their basic goal and hope is staying alive. Their preoccupation is not planning futures but avoiding funerals. Many of these children, born in troubled conditions, will grow up to be troubled young adults. I suspect the anticipated long and deep economic recession will make the conditions these children grow up in worse.
What’s really going on in urban black communities? Tension-filled, dysfunctional families, segregated from economic opportunities, under-funded schools, and cultural degradation-all this helps produce the tragic context behind the bizarre headlines.
Most tragic of all is the spiritual and psychological fatigue that settles in a community suffering from this senseless violence. How can a community function civilly with exploitation and insanity as the norm? It can’t.
The scriptures (Ephesians 4:12, Romans 12:2) give insight into how people and context are really transformed. The renewal of the spirit and mind-or the spirit of the mind-enables us to change our lives and condition.
We must develop a vision for this generation with a renewed spirit of our minds. The black community must develop an agenda to deal with our spiritual predicament and tragic condition. Going forward, I believe we must focus on three main areas: spiritual development, intellectual development, and economic development. We will be able to deal with none of these without understanding the interrelationship of all three. One: we must focus upon spiritual conversion and restoration of values. Jesus says we must be “born again”. Our soul must be saved. There must be a surrender and submission to God and for a will bigger than our sinful self-centeredness. Only righteousness from the heart can reconstruct our families and the village to raise wholesome children.
Two: educational, or intellectual, development must be co-equal with spiritual conversion. Recreating a culture that values education and excellence is vital. The celebration of ignorance is killing us, literally. We must take back responsibility for educating our children. The shame of Illinois is we have the most dynamic and powerful community of black people in the Diaspora, but black children in this state are wasting away in the most under-funded schools in the nation.
Lastly: we must promote economic development at the community level. No other community would envision itself functioning properly without local people controlling their local economy. Black insanity erodes the trust necessary for local economic development. Yet, the current economic struggles of corporate giants mean there will be a window of opportunity for us to focus on building locally-controlled, community economies. We must turn to each other and not on each other to build a local economy.
As chairman of the LEADER’s Network, I can attest that we have young, visionary leaders in our midst ready to move forward by faith and not backward by fears. A summit for black Chicago is in order to development a specific community agenda; one that strengthens our faith, communities, and prioritizes education and economic development. Let us be renewed in the spirit of our minds-the transformation of our communities will follow.