The $723 Billion Dollar Question

By Tony Price
Updated: July 7, 2008

BOSTON — Damn, not again I silently thought to myself as I watched this young black boy approach my truck with a can in his hand while stopped at a red light on my way home from work.

Now I know what you’re thinking times are hard these days and how sad it is for this child to be out begging to help his family make ends meet and I would agree except he wasn’t collecting money to help his family, he was “Canning” to raise money for his track team, a common practice amongst many youth programs.

One of my problems with this practice beside the safety factor of watching these youths dart in and out of traffic with little to no visible adult presence, and the increase in child abductions; is that I see the same teams on a regular basis.

It got me to thinking is the community in which these kids live really that poor? the answer is HELL NO! Not when according to the University of Georgia Selig Center for economic growth blacks in this country had $723 Billion buying power in 2004 (the figure has grown since then) but adding a LARGER number will only illuminate the problem.

In fact the numbers (billions) are too much for most of us to comprehend. So why then are our youth programs, educational systems, and other social services struggling for survival?

This is sure to offend a few people, I think part of the reason is because like the rich history filled legacies, traditions, heirlooms and other recollections of circumstances that help us link to the past and appreciate where we’ve been and how we’ve overcome horrific situations, yet still managed to survive and excel, on the flip side we’ve also pass down a “Poverty Mentality”.

Hear me out, too many of our young people grow up in homes hearing these words “we can’t afford it” or see if they have a sliding scale or a scholarship ; get it free or at a reduce cost (hook up & bootleg)

Our young people are like sponges and they absorb whatever is around them and if they keep taking in the verbal assault of how poor the black community is, they grow up confused and with a distorted view of the resources we possess within the community, particularly when they see evidence to the contrary (PlayStation, X-Box, Benz)

The sad fact is the adoption of this train of thought and how its continually passed on generation after generation. This mentality is detrimental and as a former Director of Youth and Recreation I was guilty of promoting it.

When I ran programs I would never charge the parents enough to cover the true expenses of conducting a quality program, because I fell into the assumption of thinking their families couldn’t afford it (I witness many programs today operating with this philosophy), so I would come out of my own pocket often time to make sure the youths didn’t miss out on an opportunity.

One day I came to the realization that I was doing these kids a disservice, I set up an imaginary world where they thought things were either free or everyone loves and is concerned about their welfare so they gave unconditionally (funders) or money just appeared magically, so they had no worry or real appreciation for that matter, often times when you offer something or a service for free the recipient doesn’t take vested interest.

Nothing will make a person value something more than when their money is on the line. Don’t get me wrong we must help those who truly need the assistance, and I have no problem with that, but often time we paint the entire community with the same brush stroke, and each case is different.

These youths that I served came from some of the toughest neighborhoods and housing projects imaginable yet many of them had TVs (with cable) in their room, cell phones, computers with Internet, dressed in the latest gear, ate out at the local sub/pizza shop 2x a week, were bussed to suburban schools or attended private schools (where they paid full tuition or their parents had to volunteer to receive a reduction in costs) got dropped off and picked up by parents who had top of the line cars, etc..

How did the assumption they can’t afford it come to life? It didn’t make sense.

There is no way our youth programs should operate on a year to year basis due to lack of funding. Some of its poor management and planning on behalf of the leadership (make sure to charge enough and don’t spend every dime you raised).

Let me park here for a moment; here’s a free tip to the local Pop Warner teams in my community(if your team won the state title for their division last year and had to raise money to travel to the nationals,) plan for success (raise money) throughout the year this will cut down or eliminate undue stress in trying to raise the money at the final hour via the local radio stations and newspapers

I don’t want to see any more newspaper pictures of our youths in their uniform posing for a picture asking (begging) for help (this is akin to those TV infomercials where they show starving kids from Africa) playing on emotions to make you feel guilty that you have so much and these poor little black kids don’t, PLEASE!

What a terrible ordeal to put those young people through, they’ve earned the right to compete for nationals, but may not be able to attend, because the program they play for didn’t adequately plan and don’t have the resources so they have to be paraded in front of the camera like show ponies.

If the same community will come through for you at the midnight hour, why not approach them earlier? (my two cents take it or leave it)

How can a community that obviously has so much material wealth cars, jewelry, clothing , fast food restaurants along with other black community mainstays (liquor stores & taverns, law offices, hair & nail salons) that are profitable and often ran by people outside of the community claim to be poor?

Maybe we need to look at our thinking and where we place our priorities after all its on the backs (finances of hard-working black folks)that have produced some of the largest churches (Mega church) in the world.

I discovered long ago that people will find a way to afford things they really DESIRE, and for those who don’t they find an excuse. I stopped seeing lack and what I noticed instead was the ignorance of the resources we held in our hands that we weren’t taught how to manage.

Remember it hasn’t been that long since blacks had real access to wealth (I’d say the 60′s) with a few exceptions. I also discovered that people will rise or bend to the level of expectation.

When the bar is raised (no discount or scholarships) people will find a way to meet the challenge, especially if it means a better chance for their children, however when the bar is lowered they will stoop low enough to get by.

I could go on, but space and time won’t permit, besides I have to save energy to respond to the feedback I’ll surely receive for this article, but my challenge to everyone who reads this post, find a youth organization in your community and write a check (any amount) YOU CAN AFFORD IT! and work on changing your thinking through the words you speak (sliding scale, hook me up, cost too much, is it FREE?)

We have the resources needed within the community to support all of these youth programs, besides it will go to a worthy cause and it will keep these kids off, oops I mean out of the street , BEEP BEEP!