This is a true story about black youth living way out on the fringes.  I have changed some of their details out of respect and for their protection.

The girl is 16 and angry; she carries homemade mace and a bag of rocks to protect her from the packs of young men that wander the neighborhood.  She was un-raised by a mother addicted to crack.  She and her fourteen year old brother used to watch their father beat their mother.  The boy tried to protect her but he would get tossed like a rag doll until he finally gave up bruised and bloodied.  Most of their days were spent watching their mother work the streets and the rest of the time waiting for her to get out of jail.  There is no extended family willing to take on the financial and emotional burden of caring for two angry teenaged kids, and the trust was broken long ago for everyone concerned.

The young man joined a gang at 10 and is now awaiting sentencing for attempted murder. The court appointed white male therapist asks him why he stopped going to school and the young man tells him that he was being threatened by older boys in gangs.  The therapist seems to think the young man is inherently violent and antisocial given the fact that he frequently displays outbursts of anger and rage effectively frightening most of those around him. Yet the young man’s behavior appears to be quite the opposite of thiswhen he is in the presence of people that show sincere interest in him. The young man has not only witnessed violence but has been an intimate victim of violence. He complains of feeling so anxious that his chest hurts and his hands sweat. At times he becomes so overwhelmed with emotion he is unable to speak; the tears flow, but he denies ever being depressed.

The therapist finds it strange that a seemingly gentle boy resorts to aggression and fighting and is perplexed as to why an obviously distressed young man would deny his struggle with depression. Let’s check this you and me. Do you find it strange that a young black boy growing up surrounded by other angry black boys stands his ground, and asserts himself aggressively in a world where the rules for a man-child is to “never show fear?” And are you surprised at all, that a boy trying to figure out what it means to be a man, refuses to acknowledge that he is afraid, and overwhelmed by sadness?

Could it be that this young man actually suffers from trauma? Are there any indicators in his life experience and behavior that might suggest why he carries a gun, why he might be anxious or feel panicked?  Would you be surprised to find out that this young man eventually started using drugs in an attempt to cope? Is there any indication in his family history that might suggest that he might be especially vulnerable to stress related illness? Perhaps it’s just me, but this seems pretty straightforward to anyone with an ounce of understanding about the cultural realities for black boys growing up poor and abandoned in urban America and the role that respect, dignity, and masculinity play in African-American male development. But far too often these days psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and social workers, don’t feel they need to know anything about African American culture to know how to help.  They insist that they are competent to serve black men and boys who remain one of the most vulnerable groups in the country, that are facing the most formidable social problems.

This is indeed a sad tale about human failure but before you jump to conclusions, note that there are no villains among these characters.  That is not to say that these individuals bear no responsibility for their plight, after all, we do have ‘free will’ to make our own choices, don’t we?  Let us look more deeply into this story.

At age 13 the mother in this story was raped and became pregnant.  Her own mother blamed her for the violation and beat her without restraint.  So to escape her mother’s abuse she boarded a bus in Texas bound for the Northwest with her 4week old infant girl.  Still whirling from her violent rape and her violent mother, she cried most of the bus trip.  Still a child herself, she didn’t know how to care for her baby so she fed her small pieces of bread and water.

She arrived at the bus station cold alone and frightened.  She loved the sweet innocent baby girl that she held tightly, the two of them stood shivering both with inadequate clothing.  She relied on those who were living on the edge for help. She feared that going to the authorities would result in the two of them being separated and placed in foster care, or worse, being sent back home.  She reasoned that she would be better off going it on her own.

The only work she could find was selling herself and drugs, but she took pride in having never stolen anything from anyone.  She managed to take care of her child without a pimp, pay for child care, a place to live, and food.  She took care of the necessities and basic human needs for her baby, but what about the internal stuff, care, nurturing, guidance, discipline?  Of these things she was negligent.  But what well of knowledge could she draw from?

After a while her strategy for survival began to take its toll.  She could not escape the daily pain and humiliation of having strange men sweat on her body.  Night after night she woke up screaming unable to breathe.  Her past and recent experiences tortured her and panic drove her from sleep.  She drank alcohol to rest and calm herself and each day she smoked crack in order to face her fears.  You can probably guess what happened from here.

Now, in walks our youthful characters, the angry 16 year old girl and the gang involved 14 year olds boy, and it all starts to make sense doesn’t it?  But where is the villain here? How far back must we go to find the real villains? And what does it have to do with you or me today?

For those of us lucky enough to be raised in healthy families or with healthy people around us, this story may seem foreign.  The fact is there are many of us that are just one loving person removed from this experience.  Sometimes all we have, or need, is one somebody to help us make it through the toughest of difficulties.  Once again, it’s called “Village”!

Our ancestors saw their way through together. Every ancient civilization has seen its rise and fall as a result of the advancement or dissolution of family, home, and culture.  Our capacity as human beings for love makes family possible; but our human frailties and cruel inclinations makes love “essential.”

Let’s try to love more today and forever. . .



“There is no conclusive proof that cigarette smoking leads to lung cancer”

(Tobacco Companies)

“There is no evidence that man made human release of carbon dioxide, methane or green house gases are causing a disruption of the earth’s climate, this change is a naturally occurring phenomenon”

(Oil Companies)

“The current financial crisis is only temporary, we just need to stop outsourcing, tighten up government and improve financial regulation. It’s nobody’s fault”

(Republicans, Democrats, Corporations)

 “ . . . .One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”. . .

 You Get My Point!

In response to the present “Occupation of Wall Street,” some might simply argue that Americans have willfully participated in a fantasy and are now angry because “happily ever-after” didn’t happen, especially when you stop to consider that much of the world wakes up to a daily zero to zero survival game, where children learn early on that life is hard and unpredictable.  And when things get
really crazy they dig deeper down into their core to find whatever’s necessary
to keep going.

I wonder what we’d do if America had a REAL Disaster, man-made or natural. Could you call on your family and friends during a major crisis? Are you able to rely on your neighbors for help? How about your local police department? What would you do if the local grocery store ran out of food?
You are probably thinking oh, that could never happen here!  . . . . . . .Can you say… Titanic?

I digress . . . Pardon me.

However chaotic the protests, to whatever degree the growing numbers of dissenters on Wall Street and around the country are unsure of how to express their needs, one thing is for sure, folks are fed up and angry about the current state of things.  Whether you are about building or, tearing down, whether you are standing by or just watching it all happen, the ground is also shaking beneath you, so you might want to have a plan B!

Stay Close…..

Lately I have been spending a lot of time working with youth from ages fourteen to their early twenties.  These young people are gifted in many ways.  They are able to access facts in seconds and find out details about news occurring globally from moment to moment. They communicate so effectively they can talk with a million people from across the world about their thoughts and views, travel to places they have never been, and investigate people that they have never seen and sometimes impact the lives of nations having never left home.

Yet, what has been shown to be the most technologically advanced period in history seems rife with shortsightedness, impulsivity, and an extreme lack of common sense.  With all of the available good and also accurate information at our fingertips, young and old alike are less willing than ever to apply intelligent assessment to their daily lives.  Sex, drugs and… well you know how the saying goes… stifle and diminish much of our progress.  It is as if the growth of arrogance is commensurate with material advancement dumbing us down and robbing us of simple grace.

My time with the youth has mostly been spent sharing basic humanisms, stories life experiences, authentic feelings and emotions about living.  They have responded with great interest and appreciation, they seem to be hungering for the “real” unembellished truth about any and everything.

*A note to those of you out there with a few gray hairs; grab a youth or, a few young people, share your life with them, tell them about your fears and your dreams, and ask them about theirs. Tell them how proud you are of them because of who they are and what you fully expect that they will one day be and do. Be the dad, the mom, the big sister or, brother the friend, the comfort the guidance and the one who loves them enough to correct them.  Feel free to videotape, skype, text or email your insights but remember that sometimes nothing beats a friendly and warm embrace.  Whatever works…

Time is running out for them and for us!

“Black Harvard MBAs Share Their Rules For Success.” Rule 10: “Never talk about race (or gender) if you can avoid it, other than to declare that race (or gender) does not matter.”

According to some, an acceptable cost of success is to deny the truth while perpetuating the well being of the elite. Sure there is still racism, discrimination, disparities, overt oppression but, if you just don’t talk about it you can get ahead?  This message was of course intended for the ‘already’ privileged African American Harvard MBA (FEW); as for the rest of struggling and suffering black America…well, “let them eat cake.”

At a time when the obstacles facing the African American poor and working class are strangling hope and leading to desperation, Statements that encourage denial in exchange for personal gratification seems irresponsible.  Many of our leaders and institutions have begun to preach and spread a sort of “prosperity porn propaganda” not to be mistaken with “selling out” or “brown nosing” but, something perhaps more egregious the willingness to compromise human dignity by subverting moral integrity.

Dr. Joy recently spoke as part of the California Institute of Integral Studies, “Discussions That Matter” series. Recording by and made available by “Making Contact“, National Radio Project.

Dr. Joy DeGruy

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