I missed the 60 Minutes Cosby/Poussaint program which my wife did see and praised greatly.  Below is Bob Herbert’s follow up in which he laments the abandonment by African American men of their children, leaving boys particularly angry and in deep trouble.

One of the advantages (or disadvantages) of being a bit older than the crowd is that one remembers things all too often forgotten.  Many years ago as an intern from Union Theological Seminary in NYC I worked with kids in lower West Harlem (at the Manhattanville Community Center (no longer in existence).  My particular little gang of about a dozen boys in their early teens did not have fathers.  But there was an explanation as to where the fathers had gone.  After WW2 when the veterans returned from the wars, they were given back their jobs (and also G.I. Bill access to college).  Those who had filled their jobs while they were away at war had ben women and African Americans who had migrated from the rural south to take advantage of the suddenly available paychecks working in our abundant NYC area factories.

When the veterans returned, both the women and these African American men were laid off and suddenly in the latter case found themselves unemployed.  Discrimination against African Americans had returned full force.  The only support for the families of the unemployed was welfare.  BUT the rules of welfare in those days were that there could be NO MAN IN THE HOUSE.  Men were forced to leave their families or else have them cut off from any sources of support.  Raids were regularly made in the middle of the night here in NYC and elsewhere to enforce this rule.

The little guys with whom I was working desperately wanted to be included in American society.  They were hungry, so rather than the regular boys activities that I would have scheduled with them, we baked cakes from mixes that I bought for them.  I became something of a big brother to them in the absence of real fathers or big brothers (most of the latter were being shipped off to our jails).  I lost immediate contact with them when my wife and I went to Oxford to study for a year.  By the time I returned the bitter ends of their lives were beginning.  They started small, grabbing food from the market stalls in the ‘hood, then grabbing purses, then robberies and dealing drugs.  One survived and became a hero cop who filled me in on the rest when I met him near his retirement — all but 3 had died violently by then — one was homeless on the west coast.

American culture has not been friendly to the African American family. Some have made it — often with great rage incorporated such as that o of Justice Clarence Thomas’ to judge by his 60 Minute interview.  There is a good deal of post traumatic stress out there and many an African American man — guilty or not — has been locked up in our prisons which hold 1/4 of the world’s prison population — the largest proportion of any nation in the world.

It is good to see Cosby and Poussaint doing their best, but racism is incredibly deeply embedded in American culture and cannot be resolved by minimal assistance to kids who are still the victims of many centuries of oppression — worse perhaps now in NYC than in any place in the South — where many are now returning to remake their lives.



Tough, Sad and Smart

They are a longtime odd couple, Bill Cosby and Harvard’s Dr. Alvin Poussaint, and their latest campaign is nothing less than an effort to save the soul of black America.

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent  212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]

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