An elder of mine, in my home town of Detroit, asked me to write something on this, as a result of one of our conversations….
A needed foundation stone, for nearly any community effort, is trust. Trust builds from integrity. A people without integrity will have little trust among them. How to rebuild so crucial a foundation element – how can you make a choice of integrity, over its opposite, ‘pay off’?
It seems safe to say that every man in the African American community, the entire African Diaspora, and beyond, would agree on the following:
Every woman is someone’s mother, daughter, sister or wife. If there is something adverse you may be considering towards a female, even you know that you could never do that with impunity, in her neighborhood, on her block. As men, we wish, pray, that in that moment, when a female relative finds herself in a dangerous situation, someone would step up and check the situation.
This author has done this, more than once. How can we, any of us, hope & pray that someone else will do what we will not? No one is talking about taking on seven guns by yourself. If action had been taken earlier, it may never have even reached that point.
Let’s be clear, this is not about heroes. It’s about righteousness. All of us are not leaders, all of us are not courageous. Yet, as I have found in situations like this, those who may not initiate such a confrontation, might be more than willing to back the one who does. Others more hesitant soon follow, once they realize it is this one – or three – against a community of nine, and growing.
We used to have a different kind of community, where there was a clarity about what was and was not acceptable, here….and it did not take a block club meeting. Go criminal for a minute, and contemplate the 80’s, with angel dust and crack. There was a time, the rule was “never deal in your own neighborhood.” That soon fell by the wayside.
Therein rests a major difference between criminality/abuse and integrity – one will change the rules to make what’s happening right now ok, whereas the other is consistent…or it is not integrity.
We used to gasp or shudder when we heard about another bright young African American woman being snatched, only to be found dead days or weeks later….“and a good student too!” We used to. What if you knew, that taking a stand, asking a simple question could make a deposit in the karma bank which could actually help a female loved one? Is that a payoff? Does that have value?
The most valuable things in our lives have no dollar value anyone could name. More than a ‘deposit in the karma bank’, each time one of us does something like this – on our own, or en masse – the collective, the community planet-wide takes a small step forward. How many of you remember a time when sending your twelve year-old daughter or niece to the store for a missing ingredient in the late afternoon was NOT something to worry about? Could we do this because “the streets were safer then”? No. It was because, even then – city, town or country store – folks knew there were certain things which would not go unchallenged. Like the old thief’s adage “Why bother with the home which has an alarm system when there plenty that don’t?”
For a variety of reasons, we have abdicated our responsibilities, individually & collectively. We lost it by inches, then in large chunks, crumbling before our eyes, ’til all we have left is this current shell, better suiting to kiting than any form of structure or support.
“We can avoid our responsibilities,
but not the consequences of avoiding our responsibilities.”
There’s more than enough blame to go around. The question is, what do we do from here, right where we’re standing..?..not spending time trying to build national coalitions. Yes, that’s all fine and good…..but only if your streets are secure. The effort needs to be homegrown. Can you have a community garden on your block without being concerned that the produce will be snatched days before the grower’s harvest? Can your son leave their bicycle in the driveway, unlocked, to get a drink on a hot day, and be assured it will be there when he comes back? As James Brown sang, “There was a time…”
Truth is, if a community, a block does not have trust among its members, it is not a community…..just a bunch of frightened folks who happen to live on the same street. Peace, and integrity in a community is like having sunshine nearly every day – it can radically change how you see, how you choose to be, building an assurance, like a rising tide, and a rising tide lifts all ships.
Before closing, there is one other factor which must be addressed. On the part of the women, once you get the sense this might be for real, some of you may feel this is the time to jump in some brother’s face, even get physical. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just because someone supposedly has your back does not free you to be abusive or demeaning to the other person. In every instance of oppression, and revolution, there comes a time when a period of truce is called for. Yes, accountability is crucial, but what will you say when questions are raised about the extent to which you contributed to a situation you knew you were not ready for? Is your ego going to move you to put your brothers/friends/community in a position to be hurt, killed or made to look like fools trying to protect you? Is that integrity? If it is to work, it must work across the board.
In a paragraph above, a child was described leaving their bicycle in the driveway – without lock or putting it inside the gate. It is easy to imagine that some of you thought this was ridiculous, that the child should know better. In most cases you would be right. If this premise holds here, how can one claim to disregard it when choosing what clothing to wear out into them be it midday or midnight? Who is at responsible, the one who spilled the gasoline in the building, or the one who lit the match?
We all are.