DEAR BLACK PEOPLE:
I'm writing you because I am worried. Around the country, our people are dying at a disturbing rate. Last weekend in Chicago, nine people were killed and 37 injured in an unconscionable but not uncommon bout of violence. Here in Philadelphia, the numbers aren't much better. Nearly every night, we witness acts of violence in our most vulnerable communities.
But it's not just violence. Every year, we receive reports that our children are dropping out of school at alarming rates. On top of that, suicide, HIV infection, drug addiction, joblessness and homelessness continue to undermine our life chances.
It's time we take responsibility.
Relax, I'm not becoming a Republican. In fact, that type of thinking is part of the problem. No political party, but especially not the Republican Party, has the market cornered on taking responsibility. And we certainly don't have to buy into right-wing notions of responsibility, which require us to take full blame for the hell we've caught in America. That's not what I'm talking about.
Responsibility is not the same as blame.
Despite the dominant narratives of our people, most of us aren't lazy, irresponsible or bad people. Most of us are simply trying to respond to a variety of factors that create social misery, like unchecked capitalism, structural racism, deeply ingrained sexism and a national culture of violence.
As an activist, I've spent nearly all of my life pushing back against these forces to make the world more humane and livable. Taking responsibility doesn't mean we have to choose between taking action and having a smart and sober analysis of what's wrong with the world.
But that's not enough. Responsibility turns analysis into action.
Responsibility forces us to be diligent activists, organizers, politicians, lobbyists, voters and jurors. How can we complain about bad politicians if we don't vote for the right ones? How can we complain about the lack of right ones if we don't run? How can we complain about unresponsive politicians if we don't create demands for them? Some of the most profound examples of black people taking responsibility have come when we fought to change the fundamental structure of society.
We must join organizations. We must build organizations. We must change the rules and logic of the day. We must take responsibility by taking action.
But that's not enough. Responsibility isn't just about big-scale activism.
A real politics of responsibility must also focus on the local. Of course, we need radical change in our schools. As a school-reform advocate, I will fight to the death for more money, revolutionary curriculum and school-discipline policies that decriminalize our children. But every study ever conducted shows that our students also have better outcomes when we read to them, help them with their homework and have regular communication with their teachers. How can we complain about the lack of support for our students if we don't volunteer? How can we complain about the links between literacy and incarceration if we don't read to our children?
We all know that crime and violence are reduced when people have access to quality employment and educational opportunities and when access to illegal weapons is reduced. By all means, we must keep fighting for those things. But crime and violence also are reduced when we actively parent our own children, mentor other young people and establish a strong presence in our own neighborhoods. Sure, we need more resources for youth, but why can't we start a basketball league, chess club, book circle?
Yes, we need new books, but we can read the old ones. Yes, we need quality supermarkets in our neighborhoods, but we can build community gardens. Yes, it's criminal that our people are hungry in the richest nation in the world, but we can feed them. We cannot become prisoners to misery, hopelessness or inaction.
Simply put, the biggest problem with the world is that there are too many people who don't do anything.
And it must stop. Now.