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Columnist: Blacks in America in desperate need of new rite of passage

Black Americans now find themselves thinking retroactively if the administration of President Barack Obama has improved their social, cultural and economic conditions in America. Unfortunately, too many Blacks believe that their conditions vis-à-vis whites are worse.

If you were to read the 2016 National Urban League State of Black America report you might be persuaded into believing that things have, in fact, gotten worse in the African-American community. National Urban League President Marc Morial said at the League’s annual meeting, “Black America is moving backwards in terms of equality,” comparing current concerns to those in 1976.

Mr. Morial introduced a solution called the “Main Street Marshall Plan” that would require a $1 trillion commitment over the next five years, and provide investments in early childhood education, small business and youth employment programs.

He went on to say that “since 1976, the black unemployment rate has consistently remained about twice that of the white rate across time, regardless of educational attainment.” Morial also stated that “black Americans are only slightly less likely today to live in poverty than they were in 1976.”

Morial sadly admitted that the presidency has not served as a cure-all for the nation’s race problem, which he says has gotten worse.

The 2016 report, however, was not all bad news. With respect to education, whites have increased college enrollment faster than blacks between 1976 and 2014 (most recent data available), but the college completion gap for blacks has narrowed 20 percentage points over this time — from 43 percent in 1976 to 63 percent in 2014.

Unfortunately, with respect to poverty, there has been slow, but ongoing progress in reducing poverty, in spite of the economic challenges presented by the Great Recession. According to the most recent estimates, the black poverty rate is now 2.4 percentage points lower than in 1976 — down to 27 percent from 29.4 percent.

Any discussion concerning a new rite of passage for blacks must address the increasing violence committed by blacks across the country, particularly in Chicago where nearly 600 murders have taken place since the beginning of this year. This conversation must take place immediately, no matter who becomes our next president, and become a part of the national discussion related to addressing and ameliorating problems that do not portend favorably for a great America.

As I have said in previous columns, gang violence and murders committed by all youth must immediately become a part of our country’s national agenda in creating a greater America. Too many of our black youth have, in fact, not been endowed with a sense of shame or conscience.

My generation was taught to never engage in any activity that would bring shame to our families. This meant that we would respect our elders, avoid getting into trouble and do our very best in school. The family’s name was very important.

Our conscience evolved in the home and was reinforced in the community, church and school. It was in these places that we learned to value our own lives as well as that of others.

We inculcated a moral compass that recognized and acknowledged that it was God that gave us life and that it was wrong to take the life of another human being whom He has created.

Admittedly, the subject of blacks killing each other is an embarrassment to the African-American community. It is believed by some blacks that detractors of the Black Lives Matter movement essentially validate their opinions by such killings.

In essence, those who are against the movement seem to believe that the increased killings of blacks by law enforcement should not be a major concern in the African-American community because of incidents of black on black violence.

It is without a doubt that the black community is indeed in need of a positive rite of passage that embraces the principle that all lives matter. The rite of passage must definitely address the following that sociologists now believe are an incubator for potential incorrigible behavior that includes violence:

• Spiritual emptiness.

• A toxic social environment.

• Family instability.

Something must occur soon to address problems in the African-American community – a new rite of passage might just be a step in the right direction.

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By Glenn Dowell

Contributing columnist

Dr. Glenn Dowell, a LaGrange native, is an author and columnist who lives in Georgia. He has been an instructor at Texas Southern University, guest speaker on major college campuses and appeared on TV programs including ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show.’ He may be reached at gdowell@live.com.