African-Americans are in Need
of An Awakening

A New Visions Commentary paper published September 1996 by The National Center for Public Policy Research, 501 Capitol Court, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002, 202/543-4110, Fax (202) 543-5975, E-Mail [email protected]

In my years of life on this planet, I've found that if there is one axiom that has proven to be true time and time again it's that the hardest thing for a person to do is change. As I look back at African-American history, I am filled with an immense sense of pride at what we have accomplished and, at the same time, I am filled with a sense of remorse that more of our people aren't fighting the good fight.

While there are more law-abiding African-Americans pulling their weight in our society than the media acknowledges, there are still far too many brothers and sisters who aren't. The majority of these people, our people, are in this predicament because of either ignorance or apathy or both. This creates a breeding ground of hopelessness and despair that eventually feeds upon itself, leaving little room for escape. It's similar to a nightmare in which you are trapped in a roomful of white folk and forced to watch our people on the Rikki Lake show. Even though the African-Americans on the screen are hardly representative of the larger population, you feel uneasy. In our poorer communities, this nightmare is all too real, but the solution to this problem is the same solution for a bad nightmare -- an awakening!

As time passes, what is becoming brutally clear is that it's in African-Americans' and other Americans' best interest for us, as a people, to have an awakening. Ignorance must be eliminated in our communities, and only we can eliminate it. Ignorance, of course, can never be fully eradicated, but surely we can do a whole lot better than we've been doing! We, as a people have to disavow ignorance, not embrace it.

I have witnessed first-hand how ignorance sneaks up on African-Americans, befriends us, lulls us into a false sense of security, then rips our whole world apart. Ignorance knows no financial boundaries, although the poorer you are, the higher the probability that knowledge will be restricted. In America, information is a commodity. Those without access have to work harder just to get information. However, an education is no guarantee against ignorance. There are more than a few of us out there with degrees and no practical knowledge of what we're talking about. These people can be more dangerous than the illiterate, crack-smoking, gun-toting gangsters. By being educated far beyond their competence, some people conspire to keep us in disunity. Whether they have good intentions or bad doesn't make much of a difference because the results are still the same.

The time is now to change. Not just change for the sake of change but positive, life-enhancing, race-fortifying change. Instead of standing idly by as our lying and conniving segment -- you know and they know who they are -- continue to exploit the system, do something about it. I'm not saying get a gun and take on the nearest gang. Be smart. Lead by example. Give the younger brothers and sisters someone to respect and admire. You may not get the recognition you want or even rightfully deserve, but if it was easy everybody would be doing it.

If you have children, educate them on how great America really is and how much better it can become. Show them how to take responsibility and not government handouts. Teach them that everything has its price, that ain't nuthin' free. Teach our boys to be men and our girls to be ladies. If you know people who have kids and don't raise them, ask them what their problem is. If you see young kids out at night and you know where they live, take them home. If that doesn't work, get some friends and publicly humiliate them at the grocery store.

Do something. The world is always changing. It's constantly presenting us with new challenges and different situations. Either wake up, unite and promote our brightest and our best, or let ignorance continue to wreak havoc on a great people.

by Michael Sharp, a member of the national Advisory Council of the African-American leadership group Project 21, a free-lance writer in Toledo, Ohio.

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