Hundreds of students from Fresno County gathered Feb. 9 to speak up and brainstorm about the obstacles facing black youths. Their goal, as reported by The Fresno Bee’s Mackenzie Mays, was “to ‘change the narrative’ of their lives by fighting institutional racism and stereotypes.”
These are important goals. Racism exists in America. Stereotypes abound. Both are roadblocks that make the path to success more difficult for blacks and other minorities.
Speaking at the African American Student Leadership & Educational Conference, Fresno Unified School District Superintendent Michael Hanson painted an accurate picture of the challenges facing black youths in our community and around the country.
“Let’s just call it what it is,” Hanson said. “It needs to be said so that we’re clear about what we’re up against. Our African American youth face hurdles in today’s society that other students don’t – my kids don’t. You are part of a movement that has been in the making for a very long time.”
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Education is supposed to be the great equalizer. Do well in school, work hard and you can write your own ticket. But that is easier said than done because of poverty, absentee parents and gangs.
If the narrative is to change in Fresno for many of our children, then the community must tackle the dysfunction gripping large swaths of our city.
A child needs to know his father and mother and feel their love and support. Adults and teens must be nurtured so that they do not throw their lives away with drugs. Mental health care, medical care, safe and affordable housing, and employment must be readily available. And no child, teen or young adult should ever have to answer this question: Which gang are you joining?
Schools provide fantastic opportunities. Gifted teachers provide the inspiration and emotional connections that power students to great achievements in the classroom and later in life. But schools alone can’t fix the problems in many Fresno neighborhoods.
Over the past decade, some Fresno leaders have come to realize that ignoring the city’s social and economic problems is a prescription for further failure. We’ve acknowledged that today’s high school dropouts become tomorrow’s prison inmates. And that a teen mom likely will have to work hard and clear many hurdles to break fee of the social safety net.
There has been a strong effort in our local school districts to lower dropout rates and ensure that graduates are career- or college-ready.
Much more work remains. Too many kids lack positive role models or grow up in families that don’t envision success (outside of criminal endeavors), much less realize it. The gang culture – especially Fresno’s black gang culture – is one of retaliation and violence.
Grudges can span generations and are answered with murder, thus triggering more homicidal cycles. With human life devalued, families are ripped apart and innocents are victims of gang crossfire.
Yes, it’s important to fight racism and stereotypes. But there’s a bigger battle. People of all colors and ethnic backgrounds must speak up, stand their ground and transform Fresno into a city that doesn’t tolerate gang-bangers, human traffickers, drug dealers and slumlords.
We must send the message that they change their ways or find another place to spread their despair and destruction.
The only way we can do that is by working together: citizens uniting their neighborhoods, parents supporting their children in school and other positive pursuits, churches getting out of their comfort zones, and neighborhoods teaming with City Hall and police.
Expecting our schools or the police or the government to fix most of Fresno’s problems is a crutch – one that is sure to shatter under the weight of unrealistic hopes.
We can do better. We must do better. Especially for our youths. The effort starts with being honest about the problems staring us straight in the face.