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