jeffrey-swain_cc_fc_web.jpgI am concerned about black youth and young adults. My concern does not emanate from the prevalence of violence or drug use or the usual litany of ills associated with young African-American males.

Rather, another problem has been injected into the life blood of young people: the American obsession with material things.

I saw the horror of this obsession just a few weeks ago when Tom Perkins, a member of the one percent class and a very successful venture capitalists, compared questioning of his excessive lifestyle to the suffering of Jews in the Holocaust.

What an abomination!  Here is a man committed to unabashed materialism deeming himself a victim because his accumulation of wealth is seen as obscene.

Watching the unimaginable levels of success of their peers like LeBron James, Jay-Z and Beyoncé Knowles and Lil’ Wayne and others, some young folk have concluded that they cannot be happy or fulfilled if their lives do not parallel the absurd measure of success attained by the extremely rich.

They look upon the average working-class person who is a good father or a good mother as too ordinary to be admired.  Cornel West puts it this way: “Too many young folks have addiction to superficial things and not enough conviction for substantial things like justice, truth and love.”


The lure of materialism prompts the younger generation to spend millions on false hair and tattoos to appear to be something they are not.  Is it not ridiculous to look like a star walking down a dirty street in a ghetto and forego the opportunities afforded us in free public schools? 


The greed of chasing after more built the systems of transatlantic slavery, which evolved into colonialism, which evolved into corporate greed reflected in Wall Street’s modern-day robber barons, and has led to a morally corrupt nation where we can’t love ourselves, much less love our neighbors.

This is not where we should be headed.


As a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta, I would stand before the marble wall that leads into the Martin Luther King Jr., Memorial Chapel and read and re-read these words: “The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually.

We have learned to fly the air like birds, to swim the sea like fish but we have yet to learn the simple art of living together as brothers.” 


Those words burned themselves into my soul. I sit in airports now and watch young folk with all manner of technological devices disconnected from the people around them but excessively proud of their ability to show off.

I listen to music that lauds the men who make it rain on black women and denigrates their beauty.


I don’t envy the young but I fear for this love affair with material things over a love of self. I am certain that some young people will read this, look at my picture and declare me an old fool of 52 years.

However, I hope that they will not overlook my love for them when I challenge their belief that the amassing of this material wealth is the end-all of life.