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Black Values In America: Rise Up To What?

I saw this video for the first time a few months ago, and related to it immediately. I have been working with children for over 25 years, and I have been speaking to urban high school students across the country for years as well. It was only about a month or so before seeing this video that I reacted in a similar way to how Dr. Thomas reacted here. I too, stopped my planned presentation to call out the students in the audience for the blatant disrespect they were showing to someone who had come to their school to help them.

When I left the school that day, and had time to process my experience, what struck me to be just as, if not more disturbing as the disrespect that the students showed was the lackluster and indifferent attitude that I saw from many of their teachers.

I have always said that children mimic what they see, and the fact is that the two places where children spend the most time are school and home, so doesn’t it stand to reason that it is their educators, and their adult family members that stand to make the greatest impression on how they act?

When I was growing up I spent the day in a school full of educators who took pride in their responsibility to the students they taught. They dressed as professionals, spoke with authority, and treated us, their students, in a way that clearly demonstrated that they were invested in us and cared about our success. When the school day was done I came home to parents who set very high and very clear standards for me. Standards for how I spoke to them, how I spoke to and treated others, how I did academically, etc. In general, there was a level a self-respect that was evident among the adults that we encountered, and that self-respect was passed down to us without us even realizing it was happening. We mimicked their actions and their attitudes, and we were better for it. When did adults relinquish their responsibilities to our youth?

Although I feel that our society as a whole has lost it’s way in how we set examples for our children, I think that this is an even more acute problem for the African-American culture and community. As an African-American boy growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, the air I breathed was still thick with the pride and self-respect that came from the Civil Rights movement. My visuals were Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe, Jim Brown, Tommie Smith, Magic Johnson, Harry Belafonte, Paul Robenson etc. There was a bond and a sense of belonging and a desire to help each other because helping each other was in truth helping ourselves. But over the past few decades the pride in the air has thinned, and we have turned into crabs in a barrel. We have stopped supporting each other and much of our behavior serves the purpose of pulling each other down, instead of working together to lift each other up. We have begun to look outward to point blame for our problems. And while there is blame on the outside to be shared, by laying ALL of the blame on others, we have made it all to easy to take any and accountability for our success off of ourselves.

Moreover, when I look to the celebrities of this generation, the athletes, the hip-hop artists, the actors- I feel that some have dropped the ball in setting examples for our youth. Where is their responsibility as role models? To Dr. Thomas’s point in this video- the rapper will swoop in, take their money for a concert, and swoop out as fast as they came. We have athletes posting pictures on social media bragging about spending a quarter of a million dollars on luggage. Is that what we as a culture should value? Could that money have built a school?

If we truly want to elevate ourselves as a culture, we need a much better understanding of what we are trying to rise up to. Our children are not less intelligent, they have simply not been taught to value their education. If their very own teachers can stand in their schools completely devoid of purpose or affect, how can we expect the students to be engaged and motivated? This has become an extremely personal issue for me because I am with these students on a regular basis. And while I do everything in my power to share my experiences, my perspective and my passion with these young adults, my time with them is limited, and I know that the impact I may have pales in comparison to impact of a teacher or a mother or an uncle that interacts with them every day. I challenge each and every one of you to acknowledge just how important your role is in showing our youth just how important they are!

"Just A Thought"

Sean L. James

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