To be young, gifted, Black and poor

Dr. Christina Greer | 5/14/2015, 3:47 p.m.
The events that have occurred over the past year in Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland, Baltimore and so many other cities ...
Poverty still remains an issue.

The events that have occurred over the past year in Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland, Baltimore and so many other cities and towns across the country have shown many people in this country that we have an epidemic on our hands. Baltimore especially has shown us that there is an epidemic in which Black communities have been starved of resources while being over-policed, hyper-incarcerated, ignored by elected officials and left to die, both literally and figuratively. Unfortunately, Baltimore is not an anomaly.

The inequities in these communities are staggering. The school systems have failed children for decades. The housing stock is in desperate repair, and incarceration rates of young Black men (and women) are at rates so obscene, it is almost impossible for many young people to ever have substantive job prospects or a way out of their circumstance.

As many of my readers know, I am always trying to find a positive side to many of the ills we face. In watching the news, I saw something other than “riots” and poverty and despair. I saw young Black men, who happened to be poor, many of whom had been formerly incarcerated, who were able to articulate not just what was happening in their communities, but what they wanted to see happen in their communities.

I recently read a thought-provoking piece by writer and social commentator Mychal Denzel Smith titled “Mental Illness, Homelessness, Drug Addiction: Do These Sound Like Crimes?” He argues that so many of the issues many poor Black people struggle with are handled by the police, which often leads to arrests and a life within the mass incarceration cycle. For those less lucky, their lives are ended by overzealous, undertrained and sometimes corrupt law enforcement officials. What would many of these communities look like if they weren’t policed in every aspect of their lives? How would the talent in these communities be able to thrive?

We do know a few things. There are so many young people who want change. They may be seen as criminals, but they have so much more to give. There are so many gifted people. Maybe it is time to harness the talent instead of literally putting it behind bars. What many of these recent events have shown us is that it is often times a crime to be poor and Black in this country. This must end.

Those of us with means must figure out a way to bring about an end to the warehousing of young Black people. The passion for change exists in so many Black communities across the country. It is possible if we capitalize on the collective moment. My task for you is to think of how.

Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at Fordham University and the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream.” Follow her on Twitter @Dr_CMGreer.