Moderated by Rick Badie
Gunfire erupted June 7 on the grounds of Victory for the World Church, immediately after a funeral for a teen homicide victim. Two gunmen killed each other during that parking lot fight. A metrowide summit on youth violence was held Wednesday at Victory. Today, the senior pastor writes about a chasm that exists between community values and the mentality of young black males who don’t respect them. And the son of a late AJC sportswriter calls for stronger father figures.
Awakened by eight bullets
By Kenneth L. Samuel
I’d felt a certain uneasiness with the mother’s response to my repeated question:
“Why was your son killed?”
Her only refrain was that he had gotten into a fight and been shot.
In light of her grief, I repressed the urge to press for more information.
But in the immediate aftermath of her son’s funeral, when gunshots erupted in the parking lot of our church, all the deadly details came to light.
Her son, a 19-year-old, had a police record. He was alleged to have recently broken into an apartment, stolen some drugs and jewelry, and physically assaulted a woman. The woman he was accused of assaulting was the mother of his alleged killer.
Looking out at a congregation of about 500 people at the young man’s funeral, I was moved by the large number of young people in attendance.
Lifting the biblical text of Psalm 90:12, “Teach us to number our days …,” I tried to reach my youthful audience with a message about the need to value life, set the right priorities and stay connected to caring communities.
Most seemed to listen attentively, but apparently not all.
The eight bullets fired in the church parking lot minutes after the funeral disrupted the solemn procession bound for the burial site.
It pierced the heart of our whole community.
Those bullets have caused faith leaders, elected officials and civic-minded residents across metro Atlanta and the country to take another look, a sobering look, at the widening chasm that has developed between the values we uphold in the community and the mentality of the alarming numbers of young black males who are devoid of those values.
Those eight bullets have reawakened our community to the desperate plight of young black men in America.
And the bullets — the assaults upon the lives of young black males — keep coming. They come due to the crisis of parenting in the black community.
I grew up in a time, not so long ago, when corporal punishment did not mean child abuse. It meant discipline.
Can we cite cases in which some parents were a bit too heavy-handed in their physical discipline? Of course.
But not many of us who were the recipients of that kind of discipline doubt that it wasn’t given with an eye toward our future.
I’m one of three sons raised by a single mother in the South Bronx of New York City. My mother (who would no doubt be in jail for child abuse today) often reminds me and my brothers that her strong physical discipline was executed to keep us out of jail. That being the case, she succeeded.
Far be it from me to advocate the wholesale return to any draconian methods of child rearing, but to be honest, I’d much rather see responsible parents exert corporal punishment upon our children than see police officers and prison guards exert corporal punishment upon our children.
Unfortunately, the first real disciplinarian that some young black men encounter is someone from the police.
If corporal punishment is no longer socially acceptable, parenting classes should be available, affordable and accessible to provide parents (especially single moms) with the knowledge, support and resources vital to the disciplined development of adolescents and teens.
And this is to say nothing of the bullets that systematically assault young black males through the lack of investment in public school education, Head Start and after-school programs.
All together, these toxic factors combine to produce a growing sense of despair in the minds of many black young men who are undisciplined, uneducated, unemployed and unmotivated.
And this hopelessness is the most lethal bullet of them all.
Kenneth L. Samuel is senior pastor of Victory for the World Church in Stone Mountain.
Strong fathers might fix senseless chaos
By Renford R. Reese
A few days ago marked my first Father’s Day in 44 years without my father, longtime AJC sportswriter Earnest Reese.
As I reflected on Father’s Day, I thought about the consequences of not having him in my life.
I thought about whether having someone like Earnest Reese as a father or mentor could have mitigated the recent violence at Auburn University or the double fatal shooting during a funeral at Victory for the World Church in Stone Mountain.
These reflections compelled me to examine the role of having a strong father in my life.
Perhaps stronger fatherhood is the element that would help resolve the senseless chaos among young black men.
My father led by example. He was the loving husband to my mother for 47 years. I learned invaluable lessons from this commitment. I saw him go to work every day and simply do his job. He was a professional who excelled at his job.
I emulated him and never missed a day of high school in my four years, while lettering in four sports and maintaining an “A” average. Like my father, I tried to lead by example.
Earnest Reese never missed a chance to teach a lesson. He took his job as a father seriously. He knew that he was my first role model and that if he did his job the right way, he would always be the most influential person in my life.
My father taught me to contradict society’s stereotypes, in behavior and attitude. Smart kids around me failed in school because school was not cool. Young black men have embraced and glorified the gangsta/thug persona.
My father taught me not to buy into such counterproductive irrationality. I dressed, walked and talked like a leader. He always held me accountable for my behavior. Imagine if all fathers held their sons accountable in this way.
My father taught me that there were other options in life besides professional sports, entertainment or the streets.
By the end of my senior season on the Vanderbilt University football team, I was ranked among the top 10 NFL safety prospects in the country.
I played in the prestigious Blue-Gray All Star game and attended the NFL Combine Camp. Nevertheless, I went undrafted in the 1990 NFL Draft.
If Earnest Reese had not been my father, this experience would have been traumatic. He told me to savor my memories and to transfer the intensity of the football field into a new endeavor.
Six years after the 1990 NFL Draft, I received my Ph.D. from USC (Los Angeles) after completing my dissertation research on ethnic conflict and intergroup relations at the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development in Geneva, Switzerland.
I have been a political science professor at Cal Poly Pomona for 16 years.
I am the founder/director of the Prison Education Project and the Reintegration Academy for Parolees.
With my father’s inspiration and guidance, I have authored five books.
Beyond these accomplishments, I am at ease with giving. I am comfortable with being a role model.
I take pride in embracing the spirit and legacy of my father.
The most poignant lesson that he taught me was that you get what you give in life.
If you give love, you get love.
If you give respect, you get respect.
He taught me that people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.
If somehow, each father could in his own way embrace the discipline, love, warmth, empathy, inspiration and compassion of Earnest Reese, imagine the impact it could have in our collective communities.
Renford R. Reese is a political science professor at Cal Poly Pomona University.