Several weeks back I convened a group of a dozen or so African American men, young brothers who are actively involved in their children’s lives, who love their spouses and who care deeply about the fate of the St. Louis region. Pulling various groups together, regardless of race, gender, or age, to have honest dialogue always leaves me inspired and refreshed. If there is something to be learned or a fire to be lit, I’m all in.
This group was special to me because they reminded me of my younger self. Navigating St. Louis as a minority professional can be challenging. I sensed the frustration and hopes of these men. They are frustrated because all are seemingly doing the right things, but several are unemployed or underemployed. Many of them hope to find ways to translate their love for community into a fulltime occupation; helping young boys who resemble them avoid the pitfalls of drugs, gangs, dropping out of school and prison. Don’t we need this? I can appreciate and identify with frustration that is harnessed into hope.
These men are hopeful because they come from families who nurtured in them a faith that is impenetrable. They are hopeful because they see themselves in the young boys they are helping.
We need more men in our region like this – those who are willing to raise their hand. And more men who are willing to step up and standout when the cameras go away. As Frederick Douglass said, “It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.” I think Douglass’s reflection applies to what we currently need in some of our toughest communities. We need people on fire to make a difference. I believe if people are on fire for the right things, if they are beating the right drum, others will not just watch them burn. Their fire will also be lit, seeds will be planted, and the earth will gain doctors, lawyers, teachers, social workers, journeymen and women.
There is nothing that is happening in our communities that can’t be resolved with engaged and inspired men and women who seek not the limelight but to ignite imaginations. We all agree that family structure is key to the success of any community. But when family structure is built on a faulty foundation and the community is under assault, men must rise up and engage in more systematic and sustained ways. A controlled burn needs active management.