Home > WORDS OF WISDOM FROM THE OLD FOLKS TO THE YOUTH: Dedicated to ending tragedies such as the murders of “Baby Marcus,” a 1-year-old from East Hills; 3-year-old Mckenzie Elliott from Baltimore; 3-year-old Knijah Amore Bibb of Northwest Washington; 18-y
WORDS OF WISDOM FROM THE OLD FOLKS TO THE YOUTH:
Dedicated to ending tragedies such as the murders of
“Baby Marcus,” a 1-year-old from East Hills;
3-year-old Mckenzie Elliott from Baltimore;
3-year-old Knijah Amore Bibb of Northwest Washington;
18-year-old Michael Brown of St. Louis; and
the thousands of other youth who left this earth too soon.
I began writing for the The Pittsburgh Urban Media (PUM) because of the deep human commitments to social justice and other personal values I sensed in the editor, Ms. Robin Beckham. My decision has been repeatedly rewarded by PUM’s content. The most recent example is the PUM focus on our youth. In the case of Black youth, as noted below, death threatens them starting at conception.
Black Embryos in New York City. “In 2012, there were more black babies killed by abortion (31,328) in New York City than were born there (24,758), and the black children killed comprised 42.4% of the total number of abortions in the Big Apple, according to a report by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/michael-w-chapman/nyc-more-black-babies-killed-abortion-born#).
Black Infant Mortality. Should a Black baby make it safely through the birth canal, The Office of Minority Health reported “African Americans have 2.3 times the infant mortality rate as non-Hispanic whites. They are almost four times as likely to die as infants due to complications related to low birth weight as compared to non-Hispanic white infants. African Americans had twice the sudden infant death syndrome mortality rate as non-Hispanic whites, in 2009…” http://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/templates/content.aspx?ID=3021#sthash.dpXVJZ71.dpuf
School-to-Prison Pipeline. Instead of Black children moving along the educational pipeline from cradle-to-college, “Too many students, especially African-Americans, are being suspended, expelled and arrested for relatively minor offenses, making them more likely to become disaffected, drop out of school and end up in prison, said Lin-Luse who is the special counsel for the Education Group of the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. …African-American students are three times more likely than their white peers to be suspended or expelled, and 50 percent of the arrest referrals from schools are for black or Latino students, she said. Such punishments start at a young age — preschoolers are being expelled at three times the rate of kindergarten through 12th grade students.” http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/57411821-78/students-lake-salt-king.html.csp
Bang, Bang, Another Child is Dead. A 2012 Children’s Defense Fund report indicated that the “…5,740 children and teens killed by guns in 2008 and 2009: Would fill more than 229 public school classrooms of 25 students each; Was greater than the number of U.S. military personnel killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan (5,013). … Black children and teens accounted for 45 percent of all child and teen gun deaths in 2008 and 2009 but were only 15 percent of the total child population. Black males 15-19 were eight times as likely as White males of the same age and two-and-a-half times as likely as their Hispanic peers to be killed in a gun homicide in 2009...” http://www.childrensdefense.org/child-research-data-publications/data/protect-children-not-guns-2012.pdf
The tragic nature of the above gun violence was underscored in an August 6, 2014 Baltimore Sun article by Raymond Daniel Burke. “When a three-year-old is shot to death while merely indulging in the act of sitting on her own front porch on a summer afternoon, the magnificence and grandeur of the renewal of our city is dimmed and diminished. But, of course, not necessarily for long. As I write this I wonder if it will still be relevant by the time of its publication. We are so accustomed to news of violence that, even when it falls upon the innocent, each event tends to eventually become another forgotten story among the many that are accumulating a sorrowful history. Of course, there are professions of profound outrage in the beginning, along with the obligatory promises that justice will be done and that improving public safety is the highest of priorities. Yet none of us realistically expects that anything will come of it, or that things will meaningfully change. Events like this are a byproduct of who we have become as a community and as a people.” Tragically, Mr. Burke could have been writing about an incident in Palm Springs, Pittsburgh, Portland, Philadelphia, Pontiac, Phoenix, or anywhere else where wanton gun violence runs unchecked.
In sum, Black youth constitute an endangered species because they are under assault by guns, gangs, drug abuse, factors that contribute to high infant mortality, poor public schools, the misfortune of being born into poor-single parent-female headed households, and other pests and pestilence that feed on them. Yet, parents, politicians, police officers and other paid professionals have failed to make programmatic changes that would alter “who we have become as a community and as a people.”
After thinking about what I might add to PUM’s focus on our endangered youth, I recalled my now deceased mother saying to me, “Boy, with all your education, you still don’t understand. Just tell them what I taught you.” This, in turn, reminded me that, in 1996, Dr. Marta J. Effinger and I wrote the following: “Grandma Mattie Flippin did domestic work for a White Virginia family. Her primary duties were cooking, cleaning, and whatever else she was told to do. Her husband died, leaving her alone to raise her extended family. Mattie Flippin spent more time at the White family's home than she spent at her own, but what time that she did spend at home was "quality time." Not having sufficient food for her family, Grandma Mattie Flippin used well the resources available to her. Before leaving the White family's home, she often stuffed her extraordinarily endowed bosom with fresh biscuits which she had made that morning. These biscuits remained body temperature warm, and, as reported to the authors by her grandchild, Ms. Martha Carter…), the butter had melted and turned the biscuits' white insides a beautiful golden color. Sometimes, these warm, buttered, bosom biscuits were all the family had to eat…” (Journal of Black Studies, 1996).
Expanding on the above story, we wrote that Grandma Mattie Flippin also “…continued the tradition of the nurturing … as described in the Bible's second chapter of Exodus. The reader might recall that Pharaoh's daughter found Moses hidden by a river and asked Moses' mother, Jochebed, to nurse the child for her. As with Grandma Mattie Flippin, Moses' mother also provided him with much more than nourishment for his body. Hale explained as follows: “Moses' mother not only nursed him with the milk of her breast, but she also imbued her child with a clear understanding of who he was, who the enemy was, and what he must do. She provided Moses with an identity, a god, and a heritage so that when his moment in history arrived and he saw an Egyptian overseer striking a Hebrew slave, he did not experience an identity crisis. He immediately knew whose side he was on and what had to be done.” (1982 Black children: Their roots, culture, and learning styles. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, pp. 45-46).
Like Moses, Black youth must be “trained up in a way” that includes the adoption of values, beliefs and behavioral norms that help prevent them from falling prey to their modern “enemies.” They must have a deep understanding of the fact that no matter what turmoil they face in life, “it is how they set their sails, not the wind that determines where they go.” Their journeys will be so arduous that they will have to be prepared to “soar on wings like eagles, walk and not be faint, run and not grow weary.” Fortunately, Black elders have provided a host of nurturing “biscuits” that can help Black youth lead transformative lives. A few of those “biscuits” are presented below.
Elder Johnson often advised, “When the doors of opportunity open, you must be prepared to walk in.” First and foremost among being prepared was obtaining a good education because “education is something they can’t take away from you.” The high values our elders placed on education were so ingrained in us that there was no truancy on our parts, much less willfully dropping out of school. Actually, we left our public housing homes in time to arrive before the school bell rang and we were dressed in “clothing that was clean and paid for” albeit it was old. No lint laced our hair and, in the absence of expensive lotions, we had used Vaseline to remove all traces of “ash.”
In school, we were taught to operate from the principle of “Once a task has begun, never quit it till it’s done. Be the task great or small, do it well or not at all.” We were never permitted to “half way” do anything regardless to whether the task was sweeping the floor, making up our bed, or doing homework. We knew that we had to be “twice as good” as Whites in order to reach the same goals and therefore “foolishness” in school was not tolerated.
With a constant emphasis on the pursuit of excellence regardless to one’s station in life, Sis Cunningham and others told us, “If you are a janitor, be the best janitor in the world” and “if you can’t be the team captain, then be the best team member.” There was zero tolerance for complaining about the difficulties we faced. Those with years of experience explained that “you have to go through the thorns to get to the roses,” that “the darkest hour is just before the dawn,” and “what’s hard to bear is sweet to remember.” If you dwelled in the spirit of what they offered, you too came to realize that “mornings come if you just hold on.” We youth knew nothing of Fannie Lou Hammer, but we did know that praying to God was necessary but not sufficient, that “You can pray until you faint, but if you don’t get up off your knees and do something, God is not going to put it in your lap.”
Our elders’ “biscuits,” baked from years of experience, made us understand that we were not lesser humans because we were poor. Although more fortunate children had the latest style clothing while we wore “hand-me-downs,” we knew that we too “were some of God’s children.” Indeed, some of the most important lessons were learned within the walls of “Mt. Sinai, St. James, Mt. Pleasant and other praise houses where we were taught about  the worthiness of the poor widow woman who gave all that she had,  the difficulties of a rich person entering heaven, and  the fact that a David could slay a Goliath. When we heard Rev. Jamison’s brilliant sermons rendered in his southern dialect and without the benefit of a high school education much less a seminary, we learned that “the price of the hat ain’t the measure of the brain,” and that “you don’t judge a book by its cover.”
Our caregivers probably saved some of our lives by making us adhere to rules such as “When the street lights come on, you must be in the house;” wrong is wrong if everyone is doing wrong, and right is right when nobody is doing right; “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar;” “don’t be guilty of throwing the first stone;” “you can’t do what everybody is doing because you are somebody, not everybody;” and “find something productive to do because idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”
No doubt, readers can recall many other words of wisdom that came from their elders, i.e., “biscuits” such as the following:
· Enough could be as good as a feast.
· There is no better lesson than the one you pay for.
· If you don’t listen, you’ll just have to feel!”
· A burnt child dreads the fire
· Why buy the cow when you can get the milk free?
· An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
· Pretty is as pretty does.
· Beauty is only skin deep, but love is to the bone.
· A fool and his money will soon depart.
· What goes around, comes around.
· You may fly high, but you gotta come low. Even a bird comes down for a drink of water.
· The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.
· If you play with a puppy, he will lick you in the mouth.
· You can’t plow a field by turning it over in your mind.
· Be careful when you’re getting all you want. Fatting hogs ain’t in luck.
· Leave half of what you know in your head.
· Man’s wisdom is God’s foolishness.
For our youth, please consider the “biscuits” that nurtured you, who provided them, and pass the information to our youth by commenting in the Facebook response line and/or in other widely circulated media.
Jack L. Daniel
Co-Founder Freed Panther Society
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