Part one of three-part column
Bullets in search of flesh and bone burst forth from a semi-automatic pistol, cracking the silence of the night air. Zipping to their tragic destination, the bullets leave in their wake piercing screams and chaos and a lingering whisper: money, power, respect.
Much of the violence in the community stems from young men’s desire for money, power and respect. Yet these goals are not the problem. The pursuit of wealth and status are legitimate and fundamental goals to our society. But there are also legitimate means to achieve these goals.
Some of the mistakes of my adolescence were how I pursued these goals, how I defined them, and how I allowed them to define me. I accepted the same destructive “money, power, respect” philosophy that some of you young brothers have now.
At the age of 16, I justified the get-money-by-any-means-necessary attitude by believing that money is necessary to be a man, that legitimate opportunities aren’t available for a Black man in the ’hood, and that since I’m just trying to survive, the end justifies the means. I was young and naïve.
Long ago my Grandpa Vito once said, “Son, I may not have a lot of money, but I’m still a man and everyone respects me. Many guys think poverty depreciates their manhood, respectability, and value as a person. So they desperately chase the dollar while leaving their humanity behind.
“Listen closely, little man: Economic poverty will not diminish your manhood or deprive you of respect and value. But poverty of character and poverty of intellect will deprive you of that and more.”
Young brothers, money does not define us as men. If you hold to your ambition, educate yourself, and strive with integrity to transition from poverty to wealth, you will always be respectable, valuable, and a man. W.E.B. Dubois, Nelson Mandela and Thurgood Marshall were not rich in their early lives, but they were always respected and valued men.
None of us faces the barriers that they faced climbing out of poverty. And yet, they were successful without resorting to crime.
The idea that crime is the only option for a Black man in the ’hood to get money is wrong. Education has always been the key to successfully escaping poverty. Education destroys all barriers. It may be a struggle and it may take time, but unlike the short-lived success of a life of crime, the success you achieve through education isn’t easily taken away.
Legitimate opportunities are available for us. Those who are persistent and unwavering in their pursuit will find them.
We often use the “I’m just trying to survive” excuse to justify our by-any-means-necessary attitude towards getting money. Let’s be real: What we define as surviving is way beyond the mark. A $100 outfit with a $100 pair of shoes is far beyond surviving. Eating several meals a day and driving on shiny new rims is far from the brink of death.
If you were to quit your life of crime today, you wouldn’t die tomorrow. In fact, you would more likely increase the number of years you have left to live. You may have to reduce your meals to one a day, wear second-hand clothing, and ride a bicycle, but you would be surviving without committing crimes.
And, you would still have the opportunity to improve your life the same way Mr. Dubois, Mr. Mandela and Mr. Marshall did. They invested their time in positive activities that resulted in sustainable success.
Carefully consider how you want to spend your time. It is our most important asset in life. The time you have to live in this world is the real money. If you wisely invest the money (time) you have now, your investment will purchase a great future.
You can choose to get rich quick over the next few years and consequently spend the remainder of your life in prison or six feet deep. Or, you can choose to endure a little economic adversity for a few years while you struggle and strive with honor for your goals, and spend the remainder of your life prosperous and stress free.
I was once told that if you invest your time in the criminal paper-chase, thinking it will make you a man and grant you power and respect, all you will have purchased is the experience of the chase. Invest your time right now in developing and educating yourself and you won’t have to chase money. Money will chase you.
Next month: Part 2, the power.
Jeffery Young welcomes reader responses to Jeffery Young #213390, 7600 525th St., Rush City, MN 55069.