Last Sunday I participated as an officiant at the water baptism of new Christian converts at the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church of Miami Gardens. Happily and surprisingly, more than half of the 30-plus persons baptized were black and brown young men under 25 years of age.
These young men recognized and received some mentoring and ministry during these critical times and now they had reached a day of remembrance and become a part of an unforgettable rite of passage. The promotion of promise, and the possibility of the production of positive participation by young black males, is beginning to permeate metropolitan cities around the country and that’s good news. And that excitement, energy, enthusiasm has to be highlighted. Too many times, what dims our view of promise are the simultaneous reports of violence and victimization in our neighborhoods.
As a matter of fact, immediately following the baptism services, my next stop was the Kendall Regional Hospital, where a young man I had watched grow up was in intensive care, having been shot several times.
There are thousands of young males who are killed yearly. Some are deleted by the legal system but most are diminished by systems of neglect and institutions of negative training. And, because of these factors, it is fair to say that time has produced a generation that is adequately described in the Hebrew Scriptures, Proverbs 30:11-14.
The writer of this chapter says “there is a generation” that are disrespectful, that curse their father and do not bless their mother. There is a generation that are disgraceful, that are pure in their own eyes and yet are not washed from their filthiness. There is a generation that are deceived by their own pride. “Oh how lofty are their eyes!” Then there is a generation that are destructive, whose “teeth are like swords, prepared to destroy the poor from the earth, and the needy from among people.”
The violence must cease.
The overall homicide rate for young males in the United States has been as much as 73 times higher than the homicide rate for young males in any other industrialized nation. Firearms are used in three-quarters of the homicides in the United States. William Julius Wilson of the University of Chicago established that homicide rates soar in neighborhoods where men have no jobs, children are raised without fathers and social institutions are in disarray.
The correlation between poverty and violence is a well-established factor in social science literature. Being poor in America is almost synonymous with living in a devastated, crime-ridden neighborhood. It often means children grow up in families with no father and attend schools where most students fail.
The reality is that many young men have been forced to "raise" themselves, as many have no fathers and their mothers may be forced to work minimum-wage jobs just to feed and clothe them. Without appropriate role models, they seek the advice and support of friends. This may lead them to participate in risk-taking behavior but often places them in “the wrong place at the wrong time.”
The medicine against violence has to be multidisciplinary. There must be community support financially, spiritually and physically. This must include parental involvement, religious involvement and strong support from educators. Conflict resolution must become a part of school curricula and self-esteem building must be instituted at home, community centers and churches.
Most scientists agree that cognitive and behavioral patterns become very well defined by the adolescent years. This is not disregarding the teenager but an effective violence-prevention strategy should work like the “public health model” and address the primary issue of prevention before the problem has been identified. More aggressive strategies of conflict resolution and self-esteem building should be instituted at the adolescent level.
This approach must include mentoring programs so that fatherless young men can have role models who are supportive and showcase black and brown adult survivors. We need more mentoring and ministry that target our young black and brown boys.
The violence must cease.
About 6,500 U.S. service members have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined over the course of a decade-long war fought in those nations. During the Vietnam War, which lasted nearly 13 years, some 58,000 Americans were killed — nearly 13 percent of whom were African American. Extrapolating black-on-black crime data reveals that, by comparison, approximately 100,000 blacks have been killed on our own streets at the hands of other African Americans in roughly the same stretches of time. That’s the number of blacks killed. But, equally as startling, studies reveal that blacks and browns were victims of an estimated 805,000 non-fatal violent crimes in just one year alone.
The violence must cease.
The problem of violence is being addressed but a lot more attention needs to be paid to this epidemic. Michael Baisden, nationally syndicated radio personality, donates air time, his social media platforms with nearly 550,000 followers and dollars to help Mentoring Brothers in Action engage more black men to get involved in one-to-one mentoring to change the odds for African-American boys.
Mentoring Brothers in Action is a national program sponsored by Big Brothers Big Sisters affiliates. Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., established the 5000 Role Models of Excellence, a mentoring program for black and brown high school boys.
Churches and religious organization must do their part in mentoring black boys and ministering to families at every level.
Coincidentally, the church where the baptisms took place last Sunday was the same venue used by Michael Baisden a couple of years ago to address the need for more mentoring.
We pray for an end to violence upon and by black and brown boys.
The Rev. Dr. Walter T. Richardson is pastor-emeritus of Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church in South Miami-Dade County and chairman of the Miami-Dade Community Relations Board. He may be contacted at wtrichardson@Bellsouth.net. Website: WTRMinistries.com