Ethiopian novelist and playwright Abe Gubegna is credited with the following well-known quote: “Every day in Africa a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows that it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up, you better be running.”
Every day that Black folks wake up in this country, they realize that they have to work harder; react differently; smile more; arrive earlier; avoid conflict more; and give more than everyone else in order to play the game that has been laid out for us. The sad reality is, however, when Black people figure out how to play the game and become successful at it, the rules change.
But why do the rules keep changing?
In the Bible, in Luke 6:31, it reads, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” This is often referred to as the “Golden Rule,” but as it relates to the “Golden Rule” in America, many believe there is an unwritten definition that “he who has the gold makes the rules.”
Those who have been accustomed to being in control in America have and will continue to use tactics, as well as make up rules as they go, in order to remain in control until they are stopped.
Unless Black people become more organized and unified in America, by training Black youth in the way they should go, and by getting engaged politically, socially and economically, they will only continue playing by the rules of someone else’s game, as opposed to creating rules to a game that are in their overall best interest.
“Surviving the Game” is a 1994 action film starring Ice-T and Charles S. Dutton, where Ice-T plays a homeless man from Seattle by the name of Jack Mason and Dutton plays a soup kitchen worker named Walter Cole, who saves Mason from committing suicide. After speaking with Mason, Cole refers him to this businessman Thomas Burns, who offers him a well-paying job as a hunting guide. Although initially reluctant, Mason accepts the job. They fly Mason out to this remote cabin surrounded by hundreds of acres of woods, where he meets the rest of the hunting party, all of whom paid $50,000 for the privilege of being there.
The first night, all members gather together to eat a nice dinner and engage in conversation. They go to sleep and then the following morning Mason is awakened with a gun in his face by Cole, who explains that the men are not hunting any animals, but rather hunting Mason himself. Mason quickly bolts out of the house and is given a head start with only the time it takes the others to eat breakfast. The hunters finish their meal and set off after him, but Mason uses his wit and skills to outsmart the hunters and eventually takes out all hunters except one, Thomas Burns.
Unable to find and kill Mason, Burns leaves the woods and returns to Seattle, Washington, where he begins the process of abandoning his current identity and hoping to avoid Mason and the potential legal ramifications of the botched and disastrous hunt. Little did Burns know, Mason had escaped the forest, returned to the city and was able to track him down. The two gentlemen began to fight and after Mason gets the best of Burns, he begins to walk away instead of killing him. Burns gets up and attempts to shoot Mason in the back, but Mason had blocked the barrel of Burns’ gun so that it backfired on him and killed him.
While that is a serious plot to a movie, it is somewhat reminiscent to the real-life scenarios that Black people have had to endure in this country since becoming a part of it. Just like Jack Mason in the movie, Black people have had the barrel of a gun put in their face by those who don’t like them and have to unwillingly play a game that has been unfair and has not valued their lives or considered them to be equal or even worthy of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Civil Rights activist and historian William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B.) Du Bois once said that, “a system cannot fail those it was never built to protect.”
When it comes to being Black in this country, all one has to do is review history and you will quickly see that Black people have consistently been on the receiving end of systematic oppression and have been placed on the wrong side of law-making since inception.
If you simply step back and take a look at the Constitution of the United States, which includes the 3/5ths Compromise, it is clear that Black people did not originate any of these laws or make up any of the rules that have historically disenfranchised African Americans in this country.
If you begin to look at legislation such as the Dred Scott Decision; Jim Crow laws; lynching; sharecropping; literacy tests; poll taxes; other segregationist policies; the ‘War on Drugs’; Mandatory Minimum Sentencing; and recently passed Voter ID laws, you will begin to see an all-too-common thread of public policy introductions and legal actions that have negatively impacted Black people in this country for centuries.
Although Black people have been the unwilling beneficiaries of many of these disparate public policy decisions, along with rules and regulations that have not benefited them at all, Black people have been able to remain resilient and have managed to deal with these constant hurdles.
People of African descent (Black people) have always been leaders and overcomers; as well as a resilient people with vision and determination. As a people, Blacks have had to continuously fight an unjust system and serve as constant pawns in a game of “survival of the fittest,” but by educating and empowering Black youth, the game can change.
There is a widely accepted African proverb that I believe is more relevant today than ever before. It states, “It takes a whole village to raise a child.”
The basic meaning of this African proverb dictates that the responsibility of raising a child is not just an individual effort; rather, it is a community effort that shifts the responsibility of raising a child from an individual to a much larger family where everyone participates, especially the older children, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and even cousins. In Africa, children are considered a blessing from God for the whole community, so it is extremely normal to see African children live with grandparents, aunts or uncles for a long period of time, and even the wider community gets involved, such as neighbors and friends. In essence, this African proverb is more than just mere words; it conveys the African worldview, which emphasizes the important values of family relationships; parental care; self-sacrifice; concern for others; sharing; and hospitality. In order to see change, Black youth must be cultivated and given the tools, knowledge and resources they need to deal with the real issues in today’s America.
Black youth are looking for leadership and a way to make a real difference in this world. They need direction though. If Black people really want to change their neighborhoods, they must focus their energies on teaching the children in their village to learn their history and abandon a mentality that leads to nothing but selfishness and limited growth possibility.
Because the beneficiaries of the struggle failed to carry the torch and continue teaching our Black young girls and boys about the struggle and connecting them to foundational values and principles of who they are, many Black youth have had to find an identity to call their own. Black youth have been seeking answers as to who they are, and what their God-given purpose is, which is why many Black youth have created and joined gangs; embraced the drug culture; created the hip-hop culture; and want to be athletes and entertainers, as opposed to becoming lawyers, doctors, politicians, ministers or community activists.
These lifestyle choices are the direct result of many Black youth feeling as if they have no other alternatives to select and no other choice but to embrace a lifestyle where most of them feel wanted and accepted. This is where most Black youth feel they belong.
It is the collective responsibility of Black people to take the necessary steps to ensure the Black community has a solid village where Black youth can grow and thrive. It is the job and responsibility of the collective Black community to properly guide Black youth in their village.
But first, Black people must figure out how to adequately reach the Black youth of today. It may be too late for many Black adults to change, but Black youth under the age of 25 are reachable.
There are many who believe the Black youth of today are a lost cause and unreachable, but would a loving mother endure the inconveniences of carrying a child for nine months and go through the painful process of childbirth, just to discard the child? Of course she would not if she truly loved that child and cared for her child. Although that mother went through all of the pains and struggles of bringing that child into the world, she has an even greater love and appreciation for that child than anyone else could have. Like that mother, Black people must endure the pains and struggles of loving Black youth and caring for Black youth, until they see growth.
Black people must take full responsibility for the Black youth in their own village and dedicate themselves to educating, equipping and empowering them until they see the change they want to see in this country – politically, socially, educationally and economically.