This year’s convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was supposed to have been all about children, which was not a bad idea because huge numbers of black children are hurting in ways that would break a normal person’s heart. But the interests of children were betrayed right at the start when thuggish boxing promoter Don King was honored, embraced and gushed over by Kweisi Mfume, the man who was hired to clean up the act of the once-illustrious civil rights organization.
Don King. How’s that for a role model? Maybe it’ll be Mike Tyson next year.
In presenting King with the association’s President’s Award, Mfume compared him to Jackie Robinson and complained about federal prosecutors who have targeted the promoter in an insurance fraud case. Mfume did not go into King’s long history of unscrupulous business practices, or the time he spent in prison for pistol-whipping and kicking a man to death.
King, in accepting the award, smilingly and enthusiastically asserted that the United States is a great country. And he offered what he felt were some helpful comments about the Constitution.
The NAACP has lost its grip. There is a disoriented and at times paranoid quality about the organization that more than any other did the difficult, dangerous and noble work of desegregating America. The NAACP was once the home of giants like W.E.B. DuBois, Charles Houston and Thurgood Marshall - brilliant and fearless individuals who spent their lives beating back the raging flames of racism and fighting for the civil rights and personal dignity of everyone. Their heroic lives embodied the true greatness of America.
Now the NAACP is something different, something so much less. It is not just diminished - it has decayed. Instead of the soaring rhetoric and strategic brilliance of past decades we now get a chairwoman, Myrlie Evers-Williams, who vows to fight the “rats” who are gnawing at her organization, and a president, Mfume, who promises “to get rid of the snakes” who would undermine him. Neither identified the objects of their wrath. Puzzled delegates could be overheard in elevators asking whom they were talking about.
Rats and snakes and kudos to Don King. If there is a method to the madness, I’ve been unable to decipher it.
As for the children, there is one thing they need more than any other. Fathers. Real fathers. Fathers in the home. Not just boys or men who have dropped their seed and split. But you could have wandered from one workshop to another, from this plenary session to that, from the cocktail parties to the most solemn prayer service without hearing a word about the greatest threat to black children since slavery - their abandonment by their own fathers.
Children who grow up in fatherless homes are far more likely to live in poverty, to do poorly in school, to have children out of wedlock themselves, to be unemployed and to commit crimes. In short, they are far more likely than the offspring of two-parent families to spread misery and tragedy among themselves and others. You want to do something for the kids? Fight with the intelligence and passion of the civil rights movement for their right to have a committed and loving father in the home.
Mfume, unfortunately, is not well-positioned to lead this fight. In his autobiography, “No Free Ride,” he writes:
“I gave new meaning to the phrase ‘sowing wild oats.’ Consider: In May 1968, Pauline gave birth to Donald. Later that year in August, Yvonne gave birth to Kevin. A year later, in October 1969, Brenda had my son Keith. In January 1970, Carlitta gave birth to Michael. And three weeks later, in January 1970, Pauline gave birth to our second child, a boy we named Ronald.”
Five children by four women in 21 months. Mfume says in his book that his consciousness has since been raised and he has tried to be a good father. Perhaps he has been. But the simple truth is that high-profile black leaders tend not to talk much, in public or in private, about the desertion rate of black fathers and the incredibly destructive effect it is having on black children.
It’s like not talking about slavery.
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