I thought about addressing the TV folks who all of a sudden have all of the answers for solving the problems of the inner city. I’ve been on TV. Actually been on Don Lemon’s program. But, later for those cats. This isn’t about THEM.
This is about US. Urban America. The fatherless, drug using, drug selling, pants sagging, trash leaving, murderers. What? That’s not “us”? Of course it’s not. But those of us who LOOK like the people who do those things….might as well be the same people. I’m not talking about racism (not right now). I’m not talking about systemic racism (later). I’m talking about real solutions to real problems in real places. You want to improve conditions in the inner city? Stay tuned….this is what helped ME.
First thing I needed was to see the world outside of my neighborhood. Whether it’s Detroit, Flint, Newark, East New York, South Side of Chicago…that’s not the world. Most people in the hood live within a mile of a MUCH safer neighborhood. It might as well require a space shuttle to get there. Because without the ability to see yourself there…it doesn’t even exist. If you “escaped” the inner city, you may not have a moral obligation to return and help, but without you…it won’t get better.
Next, convince me that I CAN live a better (safer, healthier, financially more rewarding) life than I am currently. It’s one thing to be aware that there are nice houses in your city, it’s another to believe that YOU can live in one. I’ve noticed that people in the inner city are not LESS proud than people in other places. I know those from the outside think say “your pants sagging proves you have no pride in yourself”…nah. That’s not what that proves at all. It literally proves nothing other than you like to wear your pants like that. Stop reaching. Talk to most people in the hood and they believe they are the best at SOMETHING. It’s that pride that often keeps them from listening to outsiders advice. And it’s that pride that if channeled in the right direction, will get them OUT of the hood. So let’s discuss the REASON people are so uncomfortable with sagging pants. It’s really because in a business environment, you won’t fit in. It’s because there is a perception that only gangsters, thugs, and rappers sag their pants. Even though that perception isn’t reality, you have to know the rules to the game you’re asking people to play.
That leads me to motivation. Listen, if all you know is the hood…and all of your family/friends are in the hood…what’s the point of leaving the hood? You think people are uncomfortable coming to the hood? There are people IN the hood who are uncomfortable AWAY from the hood. Motivating someone to leave their comfort zone (even if it is, in reality, Uncomfortable) takes more than a few words. It’s easy for someone who has experienced better, more, different, to be confused about how anyone could be comfortable around crime, filth, poverty and despair. But if it’s all you know…that’s your “sweet spot”. Motivating people to do “better” requires an understanding of what/how/why they think. If you don’t understand my mentality, you will fail miserably at trying to motivate me. What is important to ME? That should be the carrot you’re dangling. I’ll give you a hint…it’s not important to me to look/sound/be like “mainstream” America. It IS important to me to be able to take care of my family, protect them, and offer them a better life than I’ve had.
To do that, I need tools. “Go to school and get a job” sound great. But I’ve rarely seen that work in my community (this is why the previous 3 steps are needed…I have to see SOMEONE successful for me to believe in success). Instead of pontificating pon di TV, get out in the communities and share your experiences. Tell the kids the steps you took to get to where you are. Donating money is cool…but it’s the ‘teach a man to fish’ idea. The lesson is bigger than money.
Some will read this and say “you’re making excuses! Those people need to get their lives together. It’s THEIR fault they’re poor”. Cool. Do you. I lived in the hood. I sold drugs. I committed other crimes. And I didn’t just wake up one day and decide to pull my pants up. It was a process that a NUMBER of people were involved in. It required me to admit some things to myself. It also required me to struggle financially for a LONG time. But…it was/is worth it. Without people helping me along the way, I’d probably still be the same guy. It takes a village to raise an adult out of poverty/ignorance/crime. If you want to be a critic, be my guest. But if you’re SERIOUS about seeing the inner cities improve, put your TIME where your mouth is. After you read this, look up organizations in your area that are involved in grassroots efforts to improve conditions. If you don’t find one you like, start your own. Because…nobody in the hood is watching FoxNews/MSNBC/CNN etc.
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