New rite of passage needed for African American youth

Published 6:36 pm Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A rite of passage is typically referred to as ceremonies that mark important transitional periods in a person’s life, such as birth, puberty, marriage, having children and death.

Generally, some of the most complex rite of passages occur at puberty, when boys and girls are initiated into the adult world. Unfortunately, the cultural milieu that many young African Americans appear to be locked into does not portend favorably for their being successful and productive in the future.

In major urban environments around the country and moving fast toward small town America, the current profile and rite of passage for a young African American in need of an intervention are as follows:

  • Generally, lives with their mother or grandmother
  • Performing poorly in school
  • Parents in some instances have been arrested for breaking the law
  • Mother is unemployed or underemployed
  • Has run away from home on one or more occasions
  • Has been suspended from school one or more times
  • Is sexually active
  • Has never attended church and
  • Generally, lives in a community characterized by risk factors which reinforce negative behaviors

To validate my point, the University of Chicago recently reported that Chicago experienced its deadliest year in almost two decades in 2016. According to Chicago police, 762 people were killed, an increase of 58 percent from 2015. The victims were mostly blacks and in their teens, while many of the suspects had prior arrest records. Increasingly, much of the violence occurred in just a handful of neighborhoods.

What seems to be driving this carnage and mayhem across America?

The answer is resoundingly drugs and gang violence. It even crosses social and racial boundaries. Although blacks are disproportionately affected, very few families are unaffected by a loved one, relative or a friend who has not succumbed to the allure of drugs. As we watch television from the comfort of our home we can witness the devastation it causes in terms of ruining lives, and the murders which are reported like victims of war. What is sad about it all is that youth of all races, rich or poor, are some of the major casualties.

Remember the charismatic Roy Moore who recently lost his Senate race to Doug Jones? A memorable event occurred during his campaign that became fodder for the media, when his wife mentioned that one of the families’ lawyers was Jewish.

He was. Roy Moore’s Jewish lawyer, Richard Jaffe, now a practicing Christian, supported and voted for Doug Jones, his opponent. Even more of a caveat was the fact that Jaffe had represented his son, Caleb, on drug charges.

How do we get the message across to our youth, to change their dangerous path?

We must unpack a new rite of passage for all youth designed to assist them in discovering positive attributes about themselves and to learn what positive qualities others see in them as individuals. We must help them learn to identify some of the problems they are confronted with daily, and to demonstrate new ways to handle these problems in a socially acceptable way. They must understand that some of the messages that TV and other mediums send out about our lives which influence our thinking, can sometime lead them down a tragic path. A new rite of passage for our youth must also be instrumental in assisting them in inculcating the values and messages they receive from their families. The intent is to refocus the energies of youth in a positive direction.

A major component of a rite of passage program for youth is to assist them in establishing goals and to determine the steps necessary to achieve them. This will be a kind of self-actualization activity which challenges the youth in stating the anticipated obstacles which may prevent or hinder them from attaining their goal. But more importantly, to develop strategies for addressing the problem.

The crisis evident among our youth is a war within, that as Americans, we must win.

Dr. Glenn Dowell is an author and columnist who currently lives in Jonesboro, Georgia. He has been a guest speaker on major college campuses, including having appeared on TV programs such as the Oprah Winfrey Show. He may be reached at