Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Thugs

Across America, many Black boys are increasingly embracing the “thug life.” Once they reach adulthood, this embracement of the thug life persists. Although I understand that in the postmodern epoch there are various notions of what a thug is, all of these notions are ultimately harmful to Black boys. From the earliest age possible, Black boys need to have greater expectations from their parents than for them to live a thug life. It’s not enough to say that you keep your boys away from hip-hop music and violent video games and movies. Those things are not really what you should primarily concern yourself with. You should concentrate more on helping them to establish a pathway for a successful life. This could mean that even before the child enters into kindergarten, you begin to stress the importance of education to him or her and you become actively involved in his or her education. As soon as possible, begin to talk to your child about going to college or getting some post-secondary training. You can teach your child to be a hustler but being a hustler does not have to have criminality attached to it. Many of the best living Black men in America are hustlers in their own right—Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, Dr. Cornel West, Jerry Rice, Bishop T.D. Jakes, President Barack Obama, John Edgar Wideman, John Legend, Richard Dean Parsons, J.C. Watts, Colin Powell, Wayne Brady, and Montel Williams. Now, I’m not saying that these men are perfect—none of us are. I’m also not saying that they did not have struggles, setbacks, and challenges because they all did.  The one thing they all had was a determination to be successful and not thugs. They all had people in their lives, including their parents, who were willing to love them enough to help them develop a mindset focused on success.

I’m not trying to tell you exactly how to rear your children—I’m not qualified to do this. What I’m doing, however, is telling you that your children deserve to have parents who are committed to their success. They need you from birth to help them to understand how to be successful and to assist them with creating a pathway to success—this I’m qualified to tell you about. Every child deserves a chance to succeed!

A number of the Black boys who I grew up with and went to school with embraced deviant behavior even in kindergarten and many of their parents would get angry with the teachers and principals for exposing their poor behavior. Instead of the parents working to improve these boys’ behavior, they simply blamed the teachers and principals for their behavior. These parents needed to face the fact that their boys were simply exhibiting poor behavior. This poor behavior persisted for many of these Black boys into their teenage years where many became involved in using and selling drugs, having babies out of wedlock, getting sent to jail or youth detention centers, dropping out of school, and etc. I have to admit that some of their parents really tried to prevent them from getting involved in these things, but the boys elected to continue on with the poor behavior that they had engaged in since they were in kindergarten. Their parents never broke the cycle of poor behavior. Their parents did not stop them then and now that they were teenagers they embraced their deviant behavior as acceptable conduct.

These same boys now venerate bling bling over education. They treasure dope over hope. Why? Because they needed parents to give them positive examples of success when they were old enough to begin to understand notions of success. They needed to benefit from parents who made a serious commitment to establish a structure in the home that was geared toward success. They needed parents who did not mind saying to them that they were not rearing thugs!

As a community, we have to take the success of all Black boys into our hands when parents are not doing even to prevent their boys from becoming thugs. We have to be willing to tell them and show them what success is. We have to be willing to model success for them. It’s not enough for you to simply walk around and criticize these Black boys. When you see a Black boy who is not demonstrating the values, principles, and actions of a burgeoning successful man, then do what you can to help the boy. This may mean that you need to go talk to his parents and express an interest in investing in his future by doing things with him that are going to facilitate a successful life for him.

It’s time for us to reclaim our Black boys from futures dominated by incarceration, disease, gang activity, dope dealing, and robbery. I have committed my life to progressing Black boys and men to be the successes they deserve to be. What are you doing, could be doing, and/or willing to do to help Black boys and men to experience more successful lives?

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison


  1. I think it all starts at the home. I feel if my mother didn’t push for me to do well in school at an early age, my attitude now would be lackluster about education. I know for sure, I couldn’t bring home anything less than an A. Not saying I was the smartest thing but I had the capability. Now I’m the same way, even in graduate school. Personally, I don’t want anything less than an A. So I’m going to work hard to get it. I’m trying to be hopeful with the next generation because now more of us have been exposed to higher education. So now we can engage our youth and share experiences to help them matriculate easier through the education system. Before, we didn’t have that. It’s sad how many of my friends and I were first generation college students.

    I’m loving this push for Black young males and education. Keep it up! I wonder if that’s what you’re getting a doctorate in? We’ll discuss off here-

    1. Drew: Yes, it all starts in the home. I love your strong determination to be successful! Your resolve to be successful is paying off! I am very hopeful about the next generation, especially if we are collectively willing to help them to be the best generation they can be. Thanks for reading and your response.

  2. When you say “parents” whom do you mean?
    Don’t most thugs come from broken, single parent homes. Or for that matter, not even broken, because there was nothing to break! The girl got pregnant, sometimes not even knowing by whom – and decided to keep the baby at a very young age, not even having finished education herself!

    I seriously doubt that intact, 2 parent homes are producing “thug kids”.

    I also don’t believe that “every child DESERVES a free education”.

    Education is a privelege where I come from (an Asian country).

    We feel HONORED to be offered an education and a shot at becoming scientists, engineers, etc.

    For thug kids who don’t appreciate their education – they should not be forced or even required. Nor should they be given guvmint handouts.

    Those schools they sometimes attend (when they feel like it) and threaten violence to their teachers and other students when they do – guess what – those schools have bathrooms that need to be cleaned.

    Ungrateful thug kids can earn their keep in the world by being janitors.

    Problem solved.

    The toilets get cleaned, they earn money, and the kids who really WANT to learn have a peaceful, non-thug environment in which to do so.

    1. When I say “parents,” I’m referring to all parents. Yes, two parent homes are less likely to produce “thugs,” but they still do. We have to teach them values that do not promote “thuggish” behaviors and lifestyles. One of the goals of the piece is to have parents and their children to dream higher than being janitors. Nothing’s wrong with being a janitor, but I want people to dream higher than being a janitor. I’m trying to save children from simply being thugs and trying to help people who are thugs to change their ways. I just don’t want to say, “hey, go be a janitor,” as a means to changing people’s thuggish lives. That’s not a solution that is going to last. That’s not a solution that is going to keep them out of trouble, considering janitors don’t get paid much at all. Thanks for reading and your response.

  3. Antonio, I disagree and here’s why.

    I don’t think everyone is cut out for “higher education” or even secondary education. Kids who appreciate it, see the value in it, and apply themselves, even if “challenged” – they are cut out for it. A teacher’s time and resources need to go to those kids. Instead, what I have experienced is that in many schools, particularly inner city public, the teacher’s time and resources goes to trying to make the un-appreciative and thuggish kids behave. By the time he or she gets those kids to settle down and act like human beings, the class is almost over and the kids who came there to learn something have been robbed, cheated of an oppurtunity.

    Rather than trying to force those ungrateful thuggish kids into a box or round hole that they don’t want to and can’t fit into, its better to make them useful through labor.

    They can do some labor that doesn’t require great skills, earn some money, be kept busy, feel useful and learn something about “work ethic” and “economy”.

    They will also be able to financially help out their “families” with that money, whatever those “families” may be – single parent, mama and mama’s new baby daddy, whatever it might be.

    It can also be used as a lesson. The lesson is, if you are not willing to control yourself in order to learn, then here, take this job and see if you prefer that. There will be some kids who of course do NOT prefer it and they may learn the error of their ways and start to appreciate a FREE education and accept it for the PRIVELEGE that it is!

    Those kids can then be accepted back to the classroom.

    This country was built on people who started out in “low” jobs like janitorial. Though hard labor, work ethic and long term financial planning (saving), they were able to “move up”.

    There’s nothing wrong with takin unskilled labor positions as a starting point in life.

    I know foreigners who do not even speak English who are GRATEFUL for such jobs and the scrimp and save and also pursue education so they and their families can “move up”.

    Somehow this type of work ethic and future time orientation is lost on alot of these thuggish kids.

    I blame the welfare system as a major cause.

    1. I agree with most of what you just wrote. However, I totally disagree with you saying that students are not “cut out for” secondary education. Are you kidding me? What do you want the ones who are not “cut out for” secondary education to do? Do you want them to just start working? Do you think that an educated citizenry is crucial to the progress and survival of a nation, especially to the most prosperous nation in the world?

  4. I do think a certain level of education for all citizenry is important. However, what is not absolutely crucial is that the entire citizenry be academics, intellectuals, philosophers, politicians, social workers and office workers.

    A nation needs laborers.

    There was a time when honest hard labor and blue collar work was respected in this country. People saved and moved up from lower class to middle class through blue collar jobs. At one time a man with a blue collar job could afford to have a stay at home wife raise the kids in the home that he bought and owned through his labor, in a good, safe, middle class neighborhood.

    Not everyone is cut out for academia.

    I think its a disservice to instill a dream in thuggish ghetto children that they could be the “next Einstein” or “next President of the United States” or “find the cure for cancer”.

    Why is it a disservice? A kid cannot go from being a thug to a nuclear physicist on ego and self-esteem alone.

    However, a ghetto thug kid CAN go from being a ghetto thug kid to an honest laborer who knows how to save money THROUGH TRAINING.

    Its like kids today want to go from nothing to the greatest thing without any work and discipline. By instilling false hopes in them we simply fuel their ego.

    Let them start small.

    See if they can first calm themselve down and stop telling lies.

    Can they refrain from lashing out and beating on other kids?

    Can the comprehend the concept of WORKING for money?

    Let them start there. Step by step, starting at the bottom and working their up, it may be that these ghetto thug kids can one day become responsible husbands and fathers who show up to work everyday to provide for their children. If we can just get them to THAT point for 2-3 generations, THEN they great-grandkids might have hope of becoming the “next Einstein” or POTUS.

    They sure as heck ain’t gonna jump from a gang bang to the Oval Office in one leap!

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