Create a ‘Bar Mitzvah’ for Black Boys

Opinion

By Paul Marx

Published October 17, 2007, issue of October 19, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Although I now spend most of the year in a Baltimore suburb, I return every year for a few months to New Haven, Conn., where I lived for 35 years. When I pick up the local paper, the New Haven Register, I am startled by how many local news stories are just like those in Baltimore. New Haven has about one-fifth of the population of Baltimore, yet its main problem is basically the same: shootings and murders of young blacks by young blacks.

When I pay attention to news from other cities, large and small, I realize that almost all are experiencing the same problem. Actually, problem is too weak a word.

In many inner cities, anarchy is a more accurate description. In Newark, Philadelphia, Richmond, Charleston, Atlanta, Orlando, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago and other major cities to the west, almost every day there is a story of young black men shooting young black men. So far this year in Baltimore there have been at least 240 murders, compared to 218 as of this time last year.

The immediate cause is well known: some kind of dispute arising out of the drug trade, the main source of income for many inner-city young black men. Young men go out on the street not only with their destructive merchandise but also with a loaded gun tucked into their belts.

And there’s not much police departments are able to do to stamp out the trade once and for all. No matter what the police and protesting members of the community do, the flow of recruits into the trade continues. Selling illegal drugs is an exciting, lucrative and now, thanks to hip hop, a glamorous business. Young black men knowingly accept the risk of death and the probability of time in prison.

But the quality of life for the decent citizens of the affected inner cities is down to about zero. You can get shot by a stray bullet while sitting in your living room.

What can be done? In the short term, not much. For the long term, the focus has to be put on the black boys coming up. For a good many might easily be lured to the trade. Inner-city neighborhoods have to do much more to steer them down a different road.

For three decades, there has been a framework for doing that. In 1966, a black man who gave himself the name Ron Karenga invented the seven-day festival of Kwaanza. By celebrating black Americans’ African heritage, Kwaanza was intended to be a more meaningful African-American alternative to Christmas.

Among the seven principles to be celebrated during the seven days of Kwaanza is that of Kuumba. Its principle is that blacks should do as much as they can to leave their community more beautiful and beneficial than they inherited it.

Here, then, is an opportunity for creating a rite of passage for black boys — a rite of passage that can have a lasting impact, as many a young Jewish man can attest to.

In the remaining days of the year that follow Christmas, Kuumba should mark the passage of black boys into manhood — responsible manhood. A serious ceremony should be held that honors every boy who turned 13 during the past calendar year.

A series of ceremonies should be held in neighborhood meeting places, such as churches, schools, clubs and restaurants. The high point should be a formal initiation and the plentiful giving of gifts.

As part of the initiation, the boys should be asked to cross a symbolic white line chalked onto the floor. And they should be asked to speak lines like the following:

Today, I cross this line from childhood
Into manhood, and have no fear of being good.
Today, I take responsibility for all I do
And promise to use what I know and do
To be productive, and not destructive.

At school, I won’t play the fool.
I won’t care about being cool.
I’ll follow all the rules, and
Make myself read and pass those tests.
When I’m done, then I’ll have my fun.

At home, I’ll go about with respect, and
Won’t neglect what I’m supposed to do.
I’ll protect my mother, my sister, then my wife.
I’ll be the man I’m supposed to be, and make
My women proud of what I say and what I vowed.

And in the street, I won’t go with the crowd.
I’ll think for myself and say no to dope.
Today, I pledge to be a man and not a fool,
To be a hard-working man who can help a wife,
A man who’ll live a long and a good life.

Paul Marx, a professor emeritus of English at the University of New Haven, is the author of “Utopia in America” (Burke Publishing, 2002).


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.