Our Young People Need Guidance: Where Have You Been?

This is going to be a hard pill for many people to swallow, but I am always one who seeks to speak the truth and encourage us to dialogue about it. Our young people have been desperate for leadership and for the elders to give them guidance in order to navigate throughout life as we know it.

Most of the youth today don’t respect their elders anymore, and I for one, can’t say I blame many of them, because many of them haven’t been given a reason to respect them, other than the fact that they are…well – elders. Now an elder doesn’t mean the same to me as a senior citizen. You don’t have to be a senior citizen to be an elder in your community, in my opinion, but typically a person who has more years behind them than they do ahead of them should deemed a supreme elder, but there are younger folks who have experienced things in life that can lend to this discussion and call to action.

Again, I know this will be a tough pill for many people to swallow, but I implore you to just ride with me for a minute until we reach our destination. Once we stop, feel free to get out and get into your own vehicle, and make sure you’re driving people somewhere that has a final destination in sight, versus just driving aimlessly to nowhere as many of us often do. I want us to get somewhere with this conversation.

While we can’t blame everything that happens in our world on one group of individuals, we have to take some responsibility for what we have allowed to happen to our communities – especially to our young people. We are seeing self-inflicted crimes and tragedies occur in our communities at an ever-increasing pace. There are several external forces that significantly contribute to and exacerbate these issues, while the external resources that are available to us, can’t seem to effectively mitigate the problems. It’s almost like it is a Catch-22 of sorts, yet we continue to go on about our daily lives trying to make the best of it.

Where did the generation who benefited from all the sacrifices and heavy lifting of their predecessors disappear to? What in the hell happened to these fearless and dedicated soldiers who were on the frontline in their continued pursuit of justice and equality? Where did they go and where have they been?

Many of today’s elders in the community are unlike many of their predecessors, who prior to desegregation, would never simply just sit idly by and use some sort of justifiable reasoning to remain silent about the issues plaguing their communities. They would never just keep quiet and would always say something. Most of us see the drugs being sold in our communities, along with knowing the people who are using and abusing the drugs, yet instead of dealing with it “in-house,” many of us turn the other cheek and say stuff like: “That ain’t my problem” or “We need more police.”

Most of us see the criminal activity going on in our communities, along with the rampant gun violence and murders that are taking lives and disrupting families on a daily basis, yet instead of dealing with it “in-house,” many of us say the same stuff like: “That ain’t my problem” or “We need more police.”

Although we don’t like to hear the narrative about “Black-on-Black crime,” the truth of the matter is that Black people are committing crimes against one another and it is a real issue that negatively impacts our communities. Every day, we hear about an unsolved crime or a senseless killing over a senseless thing in the news. Things such as gang violence, home invasions, armed robbery and other violent crimes are destroying our communities and making it harder and harder to keep the external forces from coming in.

The thing that concerns me the most is the fact that our elders must step up and play a role in dealing with this issue, because after desegregation occurred, it appears that many of the “baby-boomers” felt that things had become so great that they no longer needed to educate, equip and empower the young people in the community to prepare them for the realities of America and how this country really viewed them.

What happened to people that grew up during the Civil Rights struggle like the next door neighbor during my childhood named Ms. Leola. Ms. Leola was a woman who seemingly knew everyone in and everything about the neighborhood, and she was the absolute master of looking out of her window at any time of the day or night, and somehow being able to miraculously report to the parents and other people on the block, everything that was going on. She would put the fear of God in everyone who knew her.

Let me be clear. Everybody who was up to no good in my neighborhood knew that Ms. Leola was going to snitch on us if she saw us, so much so, that even the adults in the neighborhood were extremely careful not to do anything in plain sight of her, for fear of being caught and told on. While it seems funny, I have to tell you that we respected her “snitch game” so much that we made it a point to always speak to Ms. Leola, and even found ourselves looking towards her windows to see if the blinds were moving, because that is how we knew when and if she was watching us.

Some of you may have had a neighbor on the street where you grew up like her, and although many of us didn’t like it at all then, I can now appreciate what Ms. Leola was doing for her community. The actions Ms. Leola was taking were not being done because she hated us, they were being done because she wanted to protect us, and protect the community she lived in, invested in and cherished. Whether she truly realized it or not, Ms. Leola saved me on several occasions, and many others like me, from making bad decisions and horrible mistakes that could have done harm to others in the community.

We are so quick to blame the media, or the White man, or the system, or the government or anyone that looks like we can blame, instead of looking in the mirror at ourselves. We need to stop lying to ourselves about where we are and face it head on. We need to stop pacifying one another and tell the truth about things, so we can acknowledge those things and address those things. There is no denying that Black people have historically suffered at the hands of white people in this country and have had to deal with the recovery aspects of what was taken and withheld from us, along with building a strong foundation ourselves. Sadly though, because of greed and a lust for power, many of us have become our own worst oppressor, and we have allowed our young people to grow up with a “survival of the fittest” mentality versus one where we can work together in unity to solves and address many of our collective problems.

I want to encourage my elders to do the following ten things to give back and bridge the gap between us and our youth: (1) Apologize to every young person you encounter on behalf of the elders and parents who abandoned or neglected them in their lives (2) Find at least one young man/woman to mentor and teach at least one skill or trait (3) Volunteer and/or financially contribute to a local youth organization (4) Speak at a career day at a local school (5) Encourage your children/grandchildren to get involved in activities that may involve other young people who are less fortunate than them (6) Talk to your children/grandchildren/mentee about all aspects of Black history and the contributions made before, during and after slavery (7) Invite a young person, outside of your immediate family, to your local house of worship at least one time (8) Host a gathering of young people in your respective community centered around sports/arts/entertainment/etc. (9) Help a young person connect to a gainful job or employment opportunity (10) Show up at a program or special day at your child/grandchild/mentee’s school

This may seem simplistic, but we need simplistic things to reach our youth and to bridge this gap that exists. Doing nothing will cause us to remain stagnant, or worse, it will cause us to experience even more crime, disengagement and bloodshed.

But I remain encouraged according to this quote that is attributed to “The Elders” of the Hopi Nation, which says, “We are the ones we have been waiting for,” that after reading this piece I won’t have to ask the elders in our community again…Where Have You Been?

Jeffrey L. Boney serves as Associate Editor and is an award-winning journalist for the Houston Forward Times newspaper. Jeffrey has been a frequent contributor on the Nancy Grace Show and Primetime Justice with Ashleigh Banfield. Jeffrey has a national daily radio talk show called Real Talk with Jeffrey L. Boney, and is a dynamic, international speaker, experienced entrepreneur, business development strategist and Founder/CEO of the Texas Business Alliance. If you would like to request Jeffrey as a speaker, you can reach him at jboney1@forwardtimes.com