Some recent events have reminded me of a conversation I had years ago with a former high school teacher. I was working for a daily newspaper and had gotten my first front page byline. Some friends had congratulated me, but it was the approval of my high school English literature teacher, Miss Williams, that I wanted.
I ran into Miss Williams one day and asked what she thought of my work. She said she rarely saw any of my work, but had no doubt I was doing well. "I don't worry about you all (us students) because we taught you how to think," she said, then walked away without further comment.
Indeed Miss Williams and other mentors like her showed us how to use our minds. But as I reflect on some of the things I see today, it seems that too many black folks don't feel the need to teach their children.
In a changing world where having a good head on your shoulders has become more important than being physically strong, black folks delegate the teaching of their children to inept instructors like radio and television. The entertainment industry today has more influence on black children than church, schools, or their parents.
Recently, I've been working with several African American teenagers. One young man spends hours each day reciting the lyrics of popular rap songs, yet while working, the young man has a hard time following simple instructions. The other day I asked him to name the title of an old Negro spiritual. He couldn't think of one.
A couple of weeks ago I got angry after learning that one of the owners of Martha's liquor store on King Street, had been robbed. According to reports, a young black male entered the store about 5:30 p.m., threw the owner to the floor, put his foot on her neck, and took the keys to the cash register.
I was angered that someone would brutalize and rob one of the owners of a business that has given so much to this community. Then I thought how dumb the robber must have been to attempt a robbery at the time of day when people most likely would be coming into the store.
Over the past few weeks, four black men have been murdered in the metropolitan Charleston area. One was killed at an Adams Run nightclub in a shoot-out; two others were injured. Because of senseless acts of violence like this, the ages of 18-34 are perhaps the most dangerous period in a black man's life.
I've long held the belief that my generation has failed to instill positive morals and values in the generations that have come after us. I'm starting to believe we have also failed to teach them to think.
The entertainment industry influences today's black youth to admire hip hop artists and athletes rather than orators such as Frederick Douglass or geniuses like Paul Robeson. Black parents and the black community apparently have stopped teaching their young to figure out the differences.
While there are many young blacks who are thinking — young men like Clay Middleton, Sen. Barack Obama's South Carolina political director — too many others are not. This community can't build enough jails to hold them all.
We need more teachers like Miss Williams.