An Open Letter To The Black Youth Of Today

Dear Black Youth in America,

You have my deepest sympathy because of the introduction of drugs into the Black community! I don’t know how else to put it. I was never subjected to the culture of drugs and gangs. In explanation, I can only say that in the era in which I was a child, it was after Jim Crow and so, thankfully, I did not see the ‘Colored Only’ water fountains and entrances. I was not a part of the ‘sit in the back of the bus’ or ‘give your seat up to a white person’ era. Many who were before me were subjected to that disrespect and outrageousness perpetrated on people who were born with a dark pigmentation of their skin. I have them to thank for pretty much growing up, carefree.

You see, I grew up in a small town, sort of a farming community. I had wide open spaces to play in. The neighbors knew and looked out for each other. Our doors were not locked because we went from door to door playing with other kids. I can remember the screen door slamming constantly with either me or one of my siblings or our friends coming and going, asking for a drink of water before heading back outside to play. We didn’t worry about a thing. The grownups kept us supplied with all that we needed. We behaved ourselves because we knew that if we were caught acting ugly, our neighbors had been give permission to correct us and we would get it again when we got home. Life was for me, so simple and so sweet.

This is not true today. Crack and heroin was introduced into Black neighborhoods in the inner cities and it just spread. People who were once so respectful of their bodies and of each other soon began to lose sight of what kept us from becoming like others in society. We stopped caring for each other and looking out for one another. We no longer understood what those who went before us understood, that we have to work harder, study longer, be better at everything. We cannot stop learning.

Since the beginning of our history in America, we have known nothing but struggle, pain and heartache. We’ve had indignities heaped upon us that would have felled a weaker people. But we prevailed. We kept our dignity. We did not lose our self-respect.

Young people of today, it is not too late to love yourself, to look around you and help one another. You are not just a collection of body parts. You are from a unique people, a strong people because we have endured inspite of and despite what has been done to us. We are a hated people. I wish I could tell you why because not one of us asked to be here in America. Our ancestors were dragged from their native land and sold as slaves. Young people, that is a part of our heritage. But we are so much more than that. We are poets, mathematicians, generals, corporate executives, professors, doctors, lawyers, teachers and no longer do we have to sit in the back of the bus, we drive the bus. We’re plumbers, electricians, we’re technicians of every sort. But it takes hard work and staying in school. Gangs and drugs are not the answer. I know it is rough out there. I’ve lived in inner cities and I’ve seen the struggles. I understand that many feel that the only way to get out if you can’t play basketball or football, or become a rapper, is to sell drugs and gangbang. The life of drugs and gangs end up one of two ways, either dead or imprisoned. White corporate executives who have ran their companies into the ground through fradulent activity never saw the inside of a prison cell, but if you are caught with a dime bag of weed, you will.

You see, there has always been a set of rules for them and one for us. Again, I don’t know why. Just as I don’t understand racism. I cannot state it enough. We did not willingly come here and yet, we are the most hated group of people in America. And yes, you will be called every filthy name they can throw at you, but you are above that. Let them wallow in their racism. You show them that what they say does not matter to you. You are on a mission and that mission is to rise above the fray, get an education, strive to be all you can be and if you can, help someone else along the way. That is how we got where we are today as a people, not because we were jealous of the success of another, but because we were glad to see another one escape from the enslavement of drugs and gangs and prison. Be proud of who you came from and who you are. Believe this! You are stronger than you think.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., had a dream. He was killed, but before he was killed, he and many others who marched in peaceful protest were sprayed with high powered water hoses, had dogs let loose on them, were jailed for peacefully marching for the right to vote, to drink from any water fountain, to sit on any seat on a bus, to go inside any entrance, they did not let that stop them. And so you must carry the torch ever forward. Those who went before you, lit the way. Now it is up to you to pick up the torch and go forward. The next generation is depending on you. Your sons and daughters will look up to you. Don’t let them down. Don’t let yourself down. You have a strong heritage, be proud of it and show them what you’re made of.

To the Black youth of America,
I wish you all the best throughout Black History Month and beyond!

Shelby Courtland

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