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Are you like most people today who hesitate to turn on a television or a computer and view the news of the day sensing fear or bewilderment at the continual wave of young people–especially those of color–who continue to either kill or be killed by an individual(s) who looks like them? If you’re the average human being who is moved by such animalistic behavior, and care anything about the future of mankind, then you should understand the urgent need we all have to take an active role in “re-programming” young adults.

Re-programming does not require one to be a clinician or in possession of a fancy professional title, but instead, it’s just the opposite. All it requires is for people to possess caring, compassionate and committed hearts–hearts that aspire to see life improve for everyone on the planet, especially life’s underdogs who seem to be stuck among the most unkind situations.

As human beings, we all share an uncanny sense of belief that certain situations or experiences will never happen to us. That is, until it does. For me, that came at 2:11 a.m. in the morning in 2012 when I was awakened by a phone call to be regrettably informed that my son had been found dead from a gunshot wound to the head shortly before as he was standing outside behind the residence where he lived, simply smoking a Black & Mild cigar. How a 25-year-old kid who had never been involved with a gang or in trouble, never been a problem child, and who at the time was a sophomore at a local university and adored by countless people of all ages and backgrounds could die in such a senseless, heinous way left me stunned.

Dealing with the ongoing aftermath of stress involving his tragic death led me to developing high blood pressure, which also led to being diagnosed with kidney failure and an abnormal lump in the thyroid region of my neck, leaving me well aware of the after-effects of enduring such a significant loss.

Unfortunately, just as I once thought such a dreaded experience could never happen to myself or my family, there are countless others throughout the world who for whatever reason have that same artificial sense of invincibility or autonomy. At least, until it does happen to them. And sadly, it will take that to wake most people up.

If we ever realistically expect to turn conditions around for the better in America, people of all ages, ethnic backgrounds and socioeconomic levels are going to have to step out of their realms of comfort, roll up their sleeves and dedicate time to “showing” young people of color that there is a place for them in this world besides a jail/prison cell or a specific spot in a section of the local cemetery. Economic opportunities are going to have to be created that include teenagers from disadvantaged urban neighborhoods and will allow them a means to earn their own money instead of becoming engaged in criminal activity as a realistic way of survival.

Creative, out-of-the-box thinking curriculum’s (like YesWeCode; Project 5117; Hope Business In A Box Academy by Operation Hope; PowerMoves-NOLA and others) need to be implemented. These programs aim to prepare students for the future by studying everything from fields such as how to write/decipher software coding, how to write/process electronic medical claims documentation, vocational trades (such as cement masonry, plumbing, electrical and HVAC technician education), carpentry, and other fields of the future.

Unlike students in Asian countries and India, today’s students (especially African-Americans) in the U.S. are ill-prepared for the years ahead.

* Parents/Guardians: Instead of lackadaisically running your home life as if you don’t have a worry in the world or expecting school teachers to raise your child(ren), a parent(s)-guardian(s) should be willing to step in and sternly set the tone. EVERYTHING begins at home. If children are taught (and properly disciplined) from a young age on up to respect older people and authoritative figures, then they’ll do just that. However, when a parent/guardian is too preoccupied, disinterested or uninvolved in assuring that his or her child(ren) have nothing except idle time to consume their days (and nights), and they’re continually being exposed to the poison that is being forced into their young idealistic minds in the form of unethical, nonproductive television shows like reality TV (The “Housewives” series, “Love & Hip Hop,” and other foolishness), and add to that impressionistic shows like “Empire,” “Scandal” and the likes, you should not expect much from most kids and young adults. How can we, as adults, expect much from our youth when our own thinking on reality is so distorted?

* Community-at-Large & Employers: A serious plan of action needs to be taken in regards to the ex-offender population in America as it’s beginning to be done in some cities throughout the country. Research has proven the archaic typical response of hiring increased numbers of police officers and sending people to jail/prison in hopes of reducing crime is fruitless and economical suicide for any city, much like spending exorbitant dollars to keep U.S. troops in the Middle East to support or fight win-less battles. Instead, focus on ways to put fully capable people, who may have a blemish or two from their past, to work in decent-paying jobs. Doing so reduces the likelihood most of them will become repeat offenders, and presents an incentive that will prevent them from making you or your loved one(s) a potential victim in a future crime of desperation or frustration. Programs like Defy Ventures (defyventures.org) and Prison Entrepreneurship Program (pep.org) are successfully putting ex-offenders back to work while empowering communities by creating new streams of revenue (i.e., “taxpayers/property owners”) at the same time.

Re-gaining the respect and discipline of today’s youth is not going to be an easy task, but if we are willing to take a stand for what should matter most to us, our communities will bear witness to brighter days ahead. Otherwise, it just might take more parents/guardians to walk in my shoes by experiencing what it’s like to have to bury what matters most to them: their child.

* Santura Pegram is a freelance writer and the director of Public & Intergovernmental Relations for Seaport Transportation Services LLC in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. A former protégé-aide to the “Political Matriarch of the State of Florida”  M. Athalie Range,  Santura often writes on topics ranging from socially relevant issues to international business to politics.


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