“I am not proud to be black.”

“I am not proud to be black.” Those words were said by my intern today.

As you may or may not know, I work at a non-profit organization in Philadelphia that focuses on child welfare and juvenile justice. We are a cross-system organization, meaning that we work with multiple organizations in Philly and the government. We often cross into youth violence and the state of schools in the Philadelphia district.

We hired our intern because one of my many jobs is to aggregate the news based on what we are working on, so that we are up to date with the current research and current events, or so that I get in touch with an organization to speak with them if they are doing good work, so that we can begin to implement that within the city to make things better in Philadelphia.

If you don’t know, Philadelphia is one of the most violent and poorest cities in America. Young minority men and women are murdered in the streets of Philadelphia daily, most even before they reach the age of 18.

Our school system is one of the worst in the nation. I believe we have a 63% graduation rate. Only because our public schools pass students regardless of their grades, because Mayor Nutter made a promise to have the graduation rate at 80% by 2014.

Now, imagine reading this daily. Imagine reading this multiple times. Two people murdered in West Philly. Child caught in crossfire in Northeast Philly. Over and over again.

Minority dropout rates are at their lowest. Student beaten and raped at Central.

This was by far the worst part of my job, and now we have a 17 year old black female in her senior year of high school reading these stories four days a week.

She goes to a school that is basically a madhouse. It has a 50% graduation rate. There have been multiple incidents of guns being drawn. Drugs are done openly. Teen pregnancy is rampant. So are acts of violence. Public schools in Philadelphia are not safe spaces. Instead of trying to learn, students try to survive.

After selecting the relevant news for us, she called me over because she needed someone to speak to. Swimming through articles of death, violence, failure, and a do-nothing system had finally gotten to her.

It’s gotten to me before. The hopelessness. Realizing that Philadelphia is dying a little each and every day.

There is nothing that can save Philadelphia.

“I’m not proud to be black,” she said, “Every article I read is about black people killing each other.”

What do you say at that point? When someone questions their identity out loud? All minorities go through it, but i’ve never expressed it so openly, nor have I ever been in a position as an adult hearing such hopelessness expressed.

“I feel like we haven’t gone anywhere.” She showed me articles on high school drop out rates and recent murders in Philadelphia.

Black Hopelessness is nothing new to me. I feel it daily at my job. I have no answers.

So I lied. Or at least I felt like I lied.

I told her it may seem that way, but we have come so far since slavery, reconstruction, Jim Crow.

I couldn’t tell her the truth. I couldn’t break her spirit. My spirit is already broken. I see the death tolls rising. I see the graduation rates dropping. I see black unemployment rising. I experience and breathe it first hand in Philadelphia.

But she is young, and I felt like a parent telling a child that Santa Claus is real.

She is a talented, smart, and strong black female. I do not want her to become a statistic. I am 30 years old, and in black male years that is probably around 60 in a white person’s normal age.

I want her to go college. In fact, she is. She is desperate to escape her high school. I tell her how much it will be better when she is at university.

“Sometimes I feel like people just see me as a nigger.” she said.

I’ve said the same thing many times to others. I had to lie again.

I told her she represents only herself. She is not the ambassador for African-Americans.

Another lie. A singular minority IS seen as the representative of their race by the majority. Our actions are scrutinized to see if they fit the template of stereotypes.

I lied and lied and lied. And in the end she felt better. She felt proud again, or at least I hope she did.

I lied because each African-American has a burden to bear. The weight that our parents, and their parents before us and so on had to carry.

I felt like I did tell one truth though. That the burden gets lighter each generation.

Or maybe that is a lie I tell myself? I certainly have it easier than my mother did when they ended segregation as she was going to high school. But is that weight just shifted towards black on black violence or black poverty?

All I know is that I had to make her believe.

I really hope I did. I believe she has a bright future ahead of her. She has overcome many odds. I hope she does not become a statistic one day.

I don’t know how I feel right now. I feel guilty for lying. But maybe lies can be told for a good reason.

As I sit here, I ask myself if I am proud of being black. I don’t know. I’m not proud of much of anything these days. But no one should feel how I feel. No one should experience Black Hopelessness.

So I lied.

State of the Union history: 10 famous lines – Or platitudes that have never existed in America

I found this page while working on my new computer. The big deal is that Obama plans on being “aggressive” tomorrow in his SOTU speech. All of these speeches are a bunch of crap, naturally. They just exist to make Americans feel good about themselves. Then there are responses from the opposition parties and media pundits circlejerk about the meaning of all of this and so it goes.

Anyway, I thought some of these quotes were really good, if you can close your eyes and imagine that this our past presidents really mean it.

I thought Franklin D. Roosevelt’s was the best:

“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jan. 6, 1941

I wish, FDR… I wish.

People in Power Still Don’t Get It: Poverty and Class Must be Addressed to Solve the Issues Our Country Faces

I came across 4 stories today and I found a common link they all share: Poverty and Class.

The first article comes from the Philadelphia Inquirer, written by Helen Ubinas titled, “Getting out of prison isn’t always a release

In it, Ubinas explains the difficulties that ex-cons have after leaving prison. She writes:

The film, “Pull of Gravity,” follows several Philadelphia ex-cons. It was shot over a year in North Philly and features three men in different stages of re-entry:

There’s Andy, 44, in and out of prison for 25 years, and home for six after serving 10 years behind bars.

Of the streets and old friends and habits, he says, “It pulls you” – just like gravity.

There’s Kev, 19, who served three years and was home for just a week when filming began.

“What happens in a month from now if I have no job?” He doesn’t blink. “Streets is where I go. That’s what I’m forced to do. I got a kid to feed. Mom to feed. Gotta hustle hard, man.”

And then there’s El Sawyer, who learned how to shoot video while in Graterford Prison.

Sawyer is one of the movie’s co-creators, with filmmaker Jon Kaufman. Sawyer served eight years for aggravated assault and has been home for 10. He works for the Village of Arts and Humanities. But freedom is still something he’s coming to terms with.

“It’s hard to be out here, and hard to stay out here,” he says. “It doesn’t get any easier.”

The film, funded by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia, is one of the office’s many outreach efforts, which also includes a Re-entry Court.

Why is an office that’s in the business of convicting criminals doing all this outreach? It didn’t go soft. It got smart. And we better do the same.

“We can’t arrest our way out of the crime problem,” said U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger.

We can’t incarcerate our way out of it, either. We have 200,000 Philadelphians with criminal records that keep them from getting jobs or housing and making it on the outside.

The last time I spoke with Colwin Williams, the ex-con I’ve been writing about since March, he was waiting to hear if he’d be allowed to leave a Philadelphia halfway house. He planned to move in with his mother. But the senior-housing complex where she lives doesn’t allow ex-cons. Now he isn’t sure what to do.

I encourage you to read the rest of the article, but I’ve bolded the parts that our system refuses to acknowledge or address. People in prison aren’t adequately taught the necessary job skills and education they need to succeed once release. These programs are poorly funded by state governments all over the country.

Not only that, but because of their past criminal record, many companies refuse to hire them because of the stigma of having committed a crime in the past.

We say that prison is about rehabilitation, but no one really believes it. So what happens is this: Joe gets out of prison, tries to find a job, he can’t, so he goes back to what he knows will get him some income to support himself. Joe gets caught again and is sent right back to prison and the cycle continues.

The second article is by Margaret Sullivan of the New York Times. In this piece, she addresses fellow Times writer Nicholas D. Kristof’s awful article “Profiting From a Child’s Illiteracy“. Kristof’s article consisted of victim blaming, Republican talking points about “dependency on the system” (instead of addressing the system’s failure for allowing this), and even wrote:

Of American families living in poverty today, 8 out of 10 have air-conditioning, and a majority have a washing machine and dryer. Nearly all have microwave ovens.

Amazing.

Sullivan called out Kristof for his incorrect statistics and poor reporting: He didn’t speak with primary sources, “the parents of poor and developmentally disabled children”.

Kristof was called out by many poverty advocate groups, including Community Legal Services of Philadelphia. But instead of recanting and apologizing, he continued to argue his point despite the evidence slapping him in his dumb liberal face.

Sullivan was more polite than what I would have been, and pointed that she was grateful for Kristof pointing out the lack of poverty discussion during the 2012 Presidential election. But when you get the facts wrong about poverty when introducing the discussion, you’ve already failed.

The next article is by John Tierney, titled “Prison Population Can Shrink When Police Crowd Streets”. Tierney supports the near-fascist actions that NYC Mayor heir-apparent Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has implemented. Tierney argues that by placing a large police presence around “crime-prone areas” aka poor minority neighborhoods, that less people will be locked up.

However his argument doesn’t address the real problem: Why are these “crime-prone areas”? Tierney talks about how this tactic saves the city 1.5 billion dollars a year. That money doesn’t go towards addressing poverty in these neighborhoods at all. They just create a police state that harass minorities unfairly; e.g. NYPD Stop And Frisks being targeted towards minorities and the police not finding anything the majority of the time.

Despite the fact that Stop-and-Frisk was found unconstitutional, King Bloomberg managed to get the ruling lifted temporarily because:

The city said that unless its request was granted, the NYPD would be required to take the immediate and burdensome step of having to retrain its police officers.

God forbid the police would have to be retrained to not be racists. In fact, the NYPD has unveiled another way to get around the order. By producing, and I shit you not, radiation scanners to detect guns.

Again, those in power ignore the actual problem of poverty and create NEW problems to continue the cycle of poverty.

The last article comes from The Philadelphia Inquirer. Being a Philadelphian, this one was near and dear to my heart. Pennsylvania now ranks 2nd in black homicide.

Folks, the black poverty rate in Pennsylvania is 35%. Homicide is always related to class and poverty. Without a way for people living in poverty to move upward the social ladder due to the State and Federal government continuing to punish and ignore people in poverty, they have no hope.

I want you to imagine being a 17 year old black male in the projects going to an assigned public school where there is little funding, and the teachers don’t care. All you have is the streets. This is all you know. You are traumatized so much that you do not believe you can ever achieve anything other than being a statistic. Black Hopelessness exists. But we need to extend this to ALL races and genders. Poverty Hopelessness exists.

By the way, Missouri was ranked #1. It has a 39% poverty rate for black people.

Until we start forcing our government to start caring and addressing poverty, then we will continue being a Nation of Violence, Born in Violence and, Will Die in Violence.