Monday, May 16, 2011

Failing The 2nd Generation?

My generation of Black Americans was the first. Those of us born in the 60s grew up too young to know firsthand many of the pains and sufferings that came with the Civil Rights Movement raging all around us. Our concerns were limited to diapers, bottles, regular feedings and learning how to walk. As we got older using a public toilet only meant making sure we went in to the correct one for our sex, not our race. We walked in the front door of every restaurant and stayed at motels when our families were tired of driving as we went "down home" to visit relatives or drove across the country to new homes in new states. We shopped at malls named "Glendale" like any of our white friends would, often seeing them in the same stores or even traveling together so our moms could keep an eye on us. Suffering to us was going to bed without getting any candy.

Recently I was on business to Florida and was just winding up an evening at dinner with co-workers. One I dropped back at the office where he'd left his car so we could travel together while the other I'd dropped at the hotel before heading out for some last minute shopping of my own. Upon returning to the hotel I had left the car and was making my way across the drive in to the lobby when I heard the plea "Excuse me, Sir" for me to stop. This was Florida and I'm not from New York so whatever instinct I should have possessed to simply keep walking was not in my make-up.

Here comes this tallish, lanky and obviously stoned young man who began with the usual schpiel of meaning no harm and just wanting some help. Inside of a minute he'd made his plea for a couple dollars for gas to get his stalled car started so he could get home. The hotel was a reputable brand in a good neighborhood on a busy thoroughfare less than a mile from the interstate but the first rule of safety in the parking lot of any establishment is never under any circumstances open or even reach for your wallet in public. I was tired and alone and wanted to get inside to safety and upstairs to pack for the flight home the next day as soon as possible. I politely refused and proceeded inside.

In his own words this person was 19 years old and high, having just "smoked a J" before realizing his alleged predicament. Being Black American as well he was also hoping that I could "hook a young brother up." After I'd refused and gone upstairs to my room which faced the parking lot I first checked out of the window to see if he'd seen the car I had alighted from and if it had been damaged or attacked after I'd left him. The car was safe and so was I as I began packing for the flight home the next day.

A mixture of sadness and anger washed over me as I worked my way through a week's laundry along with thoughts of what had just happened. This child of less than 20 years clearly did not know or was never told of the sacrifices made to offer him a better start than many before him could have ever dreamed of. This young man who could easily have been a child of mine had no real sense of the opportunities created from blood, sweat and politics that he was smoking away with each pipe and reefer he could get his hands on. On top of that this foolish fellow tried to play me for gas when a couple of dollars wouldn't get him across the street at today's prices! More likely this young junkie who's life looked already over was short on the cost of a fix and his dealer was waiting nearby to get paid.

Did my generation fail him or did he fail himself? Either way heaven knows he's not alone.

Gotta go.

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