Wednesday, August 23, 2006

'May I leave early?'

Yesterday, one of my temporary employees was desperately trying to get my attention. She's one of my lower-maintenance employees, so when she stuck her head in the third time, I knew there was a problem.

AB has been with my company for about six months. As with most temps, she's working in this capacity because she has a host of family problems. Blessedly, her chronically ill father finally passed, relieving her of the daily burden/drama of Code Blues. She's the responsible member of the family - therefore, she's always on call. In the past two months, her life had settled down and she was taking the necessary steps of returning to school for nursing.

Her return to normalcy was interrupted with the shooting death of her nephew.

Far too many of our black men are lost to violence. Disputes used to be resolved verbally or worst-case scenario, a brief fistfight. Now arguments are resolved permanently. A generation of black men has been and continues to be destroyed by violence.

The women are left to pick up the pieces of the shattered family. Children are the biggest victims in this Shakespearean tragedy being playing out in our urban communities. The death took place in the city but the ramifications spill over into the suburban workplace. I don't know the details surrounding the death of this young man - he was either in the middle of a situation gone horribly wrong or simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Most people look away or ask the dreaded question, "What did he do to deserve it?" Both reactions are common and very sad. The violent act and society's response are equally unacceptable. This just rips at my spirit. To think it doesn't ripple through all communities is absurd and naive. Those who can run from the cities and live in gated communities. Isn't creating your own little prison? As "those people" move into the suburbs, white folks move further out.

I grew up in a rural blue-collar black community. My parents and the other adults in the neighborhood went to work every day. My parents were involved in the church, PTA and the civil rights movement. The lawns were well groomed. My brothers and I were advised early and often that God, education and hard work were necessities to survive in the white world. We were told that we would have to be better than our white counterparts to even get an opportunity to compete. To expect fair treatment was to ensure disappointment. My parents fought for us to be respected and get a decent education in a school where blacks represented seven percent of the population. This administration's "No Child Left Behind" has focused on test taking AND is chronically underfunded.

I point this out because I didn't grow up in an urban setting. I cannot begin to understand how a generation can be so lost. Could it be that in this day and age of political correctness, the bar is lower and kids are not being given a decent education? This, compounded with the lack of decent paying jobs available once the basics of education are achieved?

In this global economy, India and Pakistan's middle class has grown at the expense of America's.

Why are black men so angry? How would you feel if you are walking down the street and a white person not so discreetly crossed? How would you feel if you are followed around in a store? How would you feel when you are driving a nice car and you are pulled over for no reason? How would you feel if you are in a restaurant with a white employee and the waitstaff addresses them and hands them the check? (If you are even seated in a timely manner.)

What about petty crime? A white kid's parents are called and he's released with a smack on the wrist, the whole incident dismissed as "growing pains". A black youth in the same situation is channeled into the criminal justice situation. How about lack of mentors in the workplace? White men reach out to the men who look like them and show them the ropes. Black men are pushed into a corner because there is this underlying fear that their wives, girlfriends and daughters may want to have sex with them. (Don't believe me? I have had bosses dumb enough to share their thoughts and fears with me. Nice.)

These are activities of daily living that white people take for granted. If you were treated this way, wouldn't you be angry?

I have had white men fall all over themselves to share their wisdom. Whatever their motivation, it has helped me get to a place where I can develop people who look like me.

The good news is that in my little corner of the world, there is a group of black men who are stepping up and returning to these communities to try to save these men. It will be the grassroots campaign that is underreported by our "liberal media"
that may save these men and the community.

What can you do? The next time you see a black man on the street, make eye contact and say hello. Keep AB in your prayers. It's a start.

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