As a violent summer ends and the school year approaches, it is time for us to cast aside the notion of a “lost generation” and proclaim greatness within us immediately
Earlier this week, I had a chance to be witness to something profound for both a family and for my hometown.
It was humbling to see the City of Pittsburgh give a proclamation to one of the men that I looked up to and respected my whole life – Dr. Morris E. Turner, Sr. Sadly, it was given posthumously, accepted on his behalf by those that I have known from my earliest memories.
And, yes, every exercise of recognition, condolence, or celebration that I watch them graciously accept hurts me deeply, seeing the pain of loss that they are dealing with. However, the one thing that keeps me without tears is knowing this: his life was a proclamation – one that is sorely needed as a resonating example in today’s Black America and throughout the nation.
Dr. Turner – son of Barney, GA and a man that improved Pittsburgh – was a member of a “lost generation” of African-Americans. Yet, one look at what he did from such humble beginnings shows why we must forge on. As the kin of 20th century sharecroppers, he excelled in school past family poverty. As the victim of segregation, he entered college at a very early age, never acting as a “victim”. As a combatant against racism, he became a medical doctor, a professor, a small business owner, and a renowned member of his adoptive city when social mores frowned against this. As an American that Jim Crow cast aside as one of a “lost generation” of poor Black people from the rural south, he proudly and humbly found success and inspired thousands.
Isn’t that the type of one-generational turnaround that we need in today’s urban America, particularly with many of our “lost generation” Black youth?
As we face our own challenges in America today concerning race, education, and socioeconomics, own concerns for a “lost generation” may be valid but not impossible to overcome. The proclamation that I was reminded of on Tuesday reflects that.
Today’s accomplishments are possible because of the work of the “lost generations” of the past, generations of people that found strength, determination, and the pursuit of success at a time when millions had written them off through laws and societal norms.
In fact, there has never been a time in America where Black people have not been engulfed by “lost generations”, from the children of slaves that were freed after a long and bloody civil war to those living in the shadows of rural America, financially broken and academically-deficit. Yet, each generation made strides to make Black America stronger and make America better overall. They found progress despite being “lost”.
Just as a son of Barney, GA pushed off former expectations to create new standards, we must shrug off the pessimism and hopelessness that many attached to today’s youth within Black America and generate a new level of accomplishment and advancement. We must impress upon our countrymen the understanding that today’s “lost generation” is not actually lost at all – we are merely pregnant with possibilities to be found within 21st century America. There has never been a time in this country where Black America did not have a “lost generation”, only to have those very same Americans create greatness out of turmoil, from the aftermath of slavery to the lunch counters throughout the South. The same is true today. The only difference is the question of our willingness to enact this change.
Yes, moving past the pain of the past and the sting from our losses make the journey more difficult. However, we have a history filled with time-tested courage and strength that overcame more entrenched obstacles. It is time for us to combine the lessons from everyday heroes, those veterans of the Civil Rights Movement, and today’s rising crop of visionaries to fulfill the promise of the 21st century. With this pursuit at heart, our own “lost generation” can move into the legacy of greatness that came before us, writing their own positive chapters of history therein.
Hearing the proclamation from Pittsburgh’s City Council on Tuesday didn’t take away any pain from our loss of Dr. Turner. It didn’t take away the gut-wrenching feelings I have experienced throughout July. However, I know that the proclamation that was his life resonates in a way that signifies to me – and perhaps, to all of us – that no obstacle is too great and no negative trend is too formidable to overcome. Poverty, discrimination, dead-end avenues, and hopelessness are all common enemies over the years – and every one of them has been sounded defeated already. Moving forward, we have to proclaim that fact daily, just as we proclaim that this “lost generation” will succeed in 21st century through our daily efforts. Sons and daughters of other “lost generations” of Blacks, through their lives’ examples, will show us the way.
Lenny McAllister is a political analyst and commentator featured on various local, national and international outlets including Al Jazeera America, CNN, the American Urban Radio Network, and Sun News Network. The Pittsburgh-based pundit hosts and produces NightTalk: Get to the Point on the Pittsburgh Cable News Channel on Friday nights at 8pm. He is also a host at Newsradio 1020 KDKA in Pittsburgh. You can follow the former WVON The Talk of Chicago 1690 AM host on Twitter and Facebook.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty