The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. summed it up, "Violence solves no social problems; it merely creates new and more complicated ones." Sadly, too many young people embrace "thug life" as a valid response to historical injustices. We could blame rap music, bad parenting, or our schools, but one thing is for sure, the "thug generation" has turned their backs on the nonviolent teachings of MLK.
Consider the tragic accidental shooting of a girl recently at Perkins Park. The Detroit-styled, drug hustling "thug life" has enjoyed a poisonous popularity among Warren's youth, black and white, in recent years. It breaks my heart and infuriates me at the same time to think about the wasted potential for good in McKayla Hopkins and Lakeisha Bell. And it angers me to think of young women foolishly celebrating anything thug related at a birthday party, instead of simply celebrating true blessings.
In 1997 at a Youngstown city high school I asked a young man who had just been expelled from school for fighting, "How do you plan on becoming a man, son? What skills are you developing day-by-day to enable you to support a family in the future?" Sadly he seemed confused, so I simplified it, "Where do you see yourself five years from now?" His response shocked me to the core: "I'll probably just smoke some cat who'll double-cross me."
He explained his life plan: to commit a random act of murder in the near future, bad enough to go to prison for roughly 15-20 years. Instead of a full ride to Penn State, he wanted a full ride to the state pen where he could get his GED and go to prison-college for free. "I'll just lift weights and study every day until I get out, then everyone will respect me - just like my Uncle Jimmy" (who claimed to receive the equivalent of a law degree from prison after he'd killed a man in a bar fight).
It is important to note that the thug rationale is always rooted in one of many false respects that come with money and other worldly influences. In Youngstown, I argued almost daily with students who openly defended thugs, "You don't understand H-Dawg cuz you have always had everything you need. See, you never been poor." I strongly rebuked, "There is no justification on earth for a life of violent criminal activity. Especially in America, nobody has to live an immoral life to survive or be happy." And how would I know?
Even though I grew up spoiled in an upper middle class Howland family, few Americans know the depths of poverty that I know, not even a ghetto thug from the T-Homes in Warren. After college I volunteered to serve in the U.S. Peace Corps in rural sub-Saharan Africa. For two years, 1993-1995, my immediate neighbors were African villagers with no running water, telephones, doctors, pharmacies, pavement, television programs or FM radios. I bathed and washed my clothes in the river and ate the local fare in rat-infested, wood-fired kitchens.
Amazingly, every day in Africa I felt blessed to be alive and breathe clean air on God's green earth with such kindly neighbors. The villagers taught me that when people are spiritually rich, material wealth seems petty by comparison. They were poor but happy because they understood what American culture had long since forgotten: If you are healthy and have your loved ones nearby - you are wealthy beyond measure! Poverty is not a substance to oppress us; it is merely a state of mind.
Americans across the board, not only the thugs, are confused on the nature of poverty. All Americans are materially blessed far beyond necessity and to such an extent that too many of us have become seduced into a world of dire spiritual poverty. We have been deceived by 1001 advertisements a day, most suggesting our happiness comes from acquiring cool stuff; therefore, we crave more and more money. As a result, the average barefoot villager seems far richer in spirit than the average American, especially the common American thug with pockets full of ill-gotten money.
During my two years in the village, only a single man was caught stealing. His punishment was quick and severe, but what impressed me more was the way his selfish act shocked the simple villagers to the core as they repeated over and over, "Ooh la la! When a man doesn't have any money to spend he must simply stay home and enjoy his family."
Once again, today's "thug generation" needs to heed the wisdom of MLK, "Those who assert that evil means can lead to good ends are deceiving themselves."
Email Herman at firstname.lastname@example.org