Young Blacks could lead the way to ‘the new swag’


bridgingthegapA biweekly column in which various contributors from both sides of prison walls explore common ground for effecting change.

Being born Black and American is a metaphysical dilemma I haven’t conquered yet; nor do I have a desire to do so. What I do dream of conquering is the negative stereotypes that accompany being born Black and American.

While watching the local evening news, I saw video of a large physical altercation among young African Americans in a Minneapolis high school. This video forced me to ask myself a simple but meaningful question: What if? I’m serious.

What if young Black males in the U.S. simultaneously had an epiphany? What if they all suddenly begin to operate on the same frequency and realized the power and influence that they have on people in our society? What would happen if every young, cool, hip, iced-out Black male would suddenly wake up and smell the Folgers?

Let me explain the point I’m trying to convey. Ever since the Reconstruction Era in this country, the African American male has been the most emulated figure on the planet. In certain parts of the South, the Black male was/is openly hated, yet admired at the same time. How can such a love-hate relationship exist in our society?

The Black male seems to have a monopoly on style, fashion, charisma and swag. All nationalities find a way to keep up with whatever young Blacks deem to be “hot” or on point. My questions are, “How can a people who are discarded by Republicans and the like have such an impact on mainstream society? And what would the rest of society do if Blacks decided to turn in their swag and charisma for something that’s considered a little less appealing?”

Can you imagine a world in which young Blacks wore pants that actually fit? Would young brothers of other races suddenly find themselves confused by this odd behavior? How would our Native, White, Mexican, Asian, and Somali brothers react to young Black males suddenly becoming socially aware, culturally respectful, and focused?”

Black youth have the power to change the world as we know it via their actions and their attitudes. Our society needs a moral transformation, and there is no better candidate to lead this change than the young Black male.

Now, close your eyes and imagine young Blacks turning in their gang attire (colors, clothing, etc.) for three-piece suits, and their Air Jordans for Stacy Adams. Hold on, because this makeover is just beginning.

Now, young men of all races are putting down their guns and picking up books. Yes, I said it —BOOKS! The clubs and street corners are a thing of the past and the local library is the new hot spot for young men and women of all races to hang out at.

Remember the old adage “If you build it they will come”? Well, the same principal applies here in this case. If young Blacks indulge in a particular way of life, then young Natives, Whites, Mexicans, Asians and Somalis will soon mimic that way of life and carry it back into their homes and communities.

No longer will young people have to worry about “dumbing it down” in classrooms across the country because their peers would praise them for having the cranial capacity (brains) to compete in the education process. Yes, the new swag consists of self-esteem, self-respect, pride and dignity. This new definition of swag will surely cross over because the young Black male has adopted it, so you know what that means.

Let me step out on a limb right here. Here goes: What if young Black males stopped watching 106 & Park and instead dedicated that time and energy to watching Wolf Blitzer on CNN? Oh snap!

It’s been said that “The greatest form of flattery is imitation.” If that’s true, then the young Black male should be the most loved creature on the planet. Personally, I believe that he is, but it would be political or social suicide for most to concur. What if people admitted to us that they are fascinated by our talents, creativity and swag? Would that inspire our youth to do better?

In 1964, young Cassius Clay (a.k.a. Ali) shocked the world by defeating Sonny Liston for the heavyweight title of the world and becoming the youngest man to ever hold such a title. I pose a challenge to my young Black brothers and my brothers of all races and ethnic backgrounds. I challenge all of you to shock the world again by pulling up your “sagging” pants and being the men that your creator intended you to be.

In closing, I’d like to call upon one of my favorite authors, Ralph Ellison, who said it best: “Let’s stop being co-conspirators in our own demise.”


Leonard R. Daniels, Jr. is a participant in Voices for Racial Justice’s “Bridging the Gap” partnership. Reader responses are welcome to To learn more about the organization’s work, visit