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Sidetracked . . .

. . . More Lessons from a Black Lawyer's Perspective

Black news from Pasadena - Editorial - sidetrackedI have been asked to take part in a panel discussion on the subject of "Why More Black Men Don't Go To Church." As I prepared some notes on this serious subject it struck me that some of the same reasons could apply to more aspects of Black men's lives such as, why more Black Men don't embrace entrepreneurship and go into business more, or why many Black men are so willing to leave home and abandon their children for some outside interests, or why are there so many Black Men in prison, and why are so many men willing to avoid marriage?

All of these are painful questions, but the sooner they are dealt with on a continuous basis, the sooner we can improve the situation. Please note that I didn't say solve the problem. I feel we can improve the problem. I also note that these are questions that most people wish would not be played out and dealt with in public. But when we accept a culture that glorifies a thug culture from their Rap music to their underwear exposing dress code, it's already out in public. I've always said you should try to do things you are proud of, then you don't mind them being played out in public.

In his famous 2004 speech on the fiftieth anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education school integration decision, Bill Cosby dealt with the criticism that he was airing our dirty laundry. Cosby responded by saying, in essence, that every day at around three o'clock p.m., if you pass by a local urban high school in a Black community and watch the behavior of our youth, you will see our dirty laundry being aired. From carrying no books to wearing their pants so you can see the crack of their butts, that is our dirty laundry. That is our open secret, and WE TOLERATE IT.

That is the problem we need to address, and that is why Black Men don't do things like go to church, build marriages, build families or build businesses. And that is why Black men are filling the prisons.

To use my ten top reasons why Black men don't go to church, they are: (1) Hypocrisy. We tolerate hypocrisy in our leadership, whether it is pastors, parents or politicians. They teach us family values, like family comes first, but they practice total freedom to do what they want with who they want;

(2) Ego/ Dictatorial. We teach altruism, but we practice an "it's all about me" philosophy and we tolerate it. We go to churches where we forget that most of the members live in poverty while pumping up a leadership that promotes a high roller lifestyle at the expense of people who live below the poverty line;

(3) Absence of Evangelism in church is also evident in community life. Leaders are too busy at church to go out in the community and serve as living witnesses of God's goodness and the benefits of hard work and sacrifice that got them over. I once attended a church where on Saturday the men of the church went to the neighborhood and confronted the young men selling drugs and doing other types of mischief, encouraging them to come to church. This same church regularly went to the jails to talk to the prisoners. I applaud those churches that still engage in these types of activities, but they are few. I know this is old school.

I have been criticized for telling my story about how I grew up working at all kinds of jobs from shining shoes to washing cars, then going to barber school before law school. My story is one that I used to inspire my own children, and one of my sons who now has a Ph.D went to barber school, first, not because he wanted to, but because I acted like a parent and demanded that he do something other than lay in bed. Years later, my now 18 year old granddaughter spent two summer vacations going to barber school, at my urging, where she learned the basics of barbering. She is a college student now and has some barbering skills as a Plan B toward her independence, if she needs it;

(4) Lack of Education is a deterrent to everything successful. If they can't read, they can't read the Bible or Sunday School lesson, let alone their school textbooks. We tolerate a social and cultural norm that criticizes educational achievers. Hollywood promotes Black actors who have graduated from prison or the vulgar Rap business, while ignoring brothers and sisters who studied acting at universities.

(5) We tolerate a culture of drugs by teaching our young not to snitch on the local drug dealer, then we talk about how the white man brought drugs and guns into our neighborhood and how it destroyed us, like are a bunch of hypocrites. I like the story of how the basketball player, Isaiah Thomas' mother, took her shotgun to the local drug dealers and dared them to recruit her sons.  I know a man who when he saw a local drug dealer talking to his granddaughter told her to stay away from him and told him that if he didn't stay away from her, he might find himself missing. I call that good parenting;

(6) We tolerate an education system that is irrelevant.

When America was going through the 2011 debt crisis that threatened to put America in a depression, the New York Times published a story about singer Beyonce being pregnant. In the schools, our kids reading list does not include books about John Johnson who founded Ebony Magazine or A.G. Gaston who became a millionaire by creating business opportunities out of the Jim Crow South. White funeral homes wouldn't bury Blacks, so he created a Funeral Home business. Likewise, he started an Insurance company, a Black Bank and a secretarial school to train secretaries to work in his businesses. Madam C.J. Walker became the world's first Black millionaire by creating Black hair care products. These stories are just as relevant as the stories of Dr. Martin Luther King. But in the end, the picture painted of King was that he took on the system by begging, while others like Gaston, Johnson and Walker took on the world by becoming business owners.  All of them are important and relevant, but the White dominated education system concentrates on the one that does not teach independence;

(7) Positive Christian Role Models are needed in church, and positive role models are also needed in life. Civil Rights and leaders like Malcolm X and H. Rap Brown served as role models for the militant Civil Rights Movement of the sixties, but the voices of economic independence were silent, just as they are today to demonstrate a "YES WE CAN ATTITUDE" for our young people;

(8)Attire/Dress Code;

(9) Streets/Peer Pressure. The pants dragging, the hats on backwards and the public and open use of foul language are all tolerated because of peer pressure. The fellowship, camaraderie, and acceptance of brothers on the streets are the most important thing to a brother who has low self esteem to start with. As a consequence they will wear sagging pants and dress for arrest, rather than dress for success, unless they find more positive brothers elsewhere;

(10) Unemployment is a factor which can affect what we tolerate. It's still true that if you provide employment to people, they will respond. It's also true that the idle mind is the devil's playground. The problem is that too often the only employment that seems to be readily available is in the underground economy. Other employment requires preparation and some training and on its face that's not an attractive option. However, young men who find themselves in the armed service, or even in a prison where they can get some training, will work. The most successful programs are programs that provide employment like the Nation of Islam, Homeboys Industries, and the idea in the Pasadena, New City Project.

The bottom line is that as long as we are willing to turn our heads and tolerate certain negative behavior, wherever it is coming from, we will still be discussing these questions next year. More importantly is what are we going to do about it? If you ignore it, it won't get better. So do something. But if you are worried about what people will say if you attack the problem, this reminds me of the saying: "Think Education Is Expensive? Try Ignorance." I note the root word of ignorance is ignore. So I think it is ignorant to try to ignore the problem or even to ignore the ones who choose to act to clean up the problems.