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Dream for our children faces crisis of character

By |2008-04-17T09:00:00-04:00April 17th, 2008|Opinions|

Forty years after his death, Martin Luther King’s dream that his/our children would one day live in a nation “where they would not be judged on the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” seems closer to being attained than ever before.
We celebrate this good news as a blind, African American man becomes the governor of New York. Although economic parity is still a ways off, women of all ethnicities run businesses and sit in board rooms across the country.
Politics is no longer a “white boys” club. Women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender politicians are being elected to school boards, as mayors, governors, to state legislatures and the House.
Cultural barriers are being crossed with black and latino artists topping music charts, receiving awards and breaking barriers in roles for years available only to white actors, directors, producers and other artists. Every community is experiencing some level of the “browning of America” challenging and reinventing social norms and communities while shattering the status quo.
And if there were still any doubt one need only look at this year’s “MOD Squad” (one white, one black, one blonde) political field to see that the times “they are a changing.” The equality train is picking up speed, no longer chugging along but picking up speed with a full head of steam coming into the station.
Yes King’s dream for all of our children is coming true. The question now is what will be the “content of their character? What messages are we sending these children weaned on technology- TV, video games, cell phones and text messages – about what it is to be and build a better tomorrow?
In her comments before stating the charges against Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and former aide Christine Beatty, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy talked about the fundamental principles of justice we learn as children – “Tell the truth. Take responsibility for your actions. Admit when you’re wrong. Be fair and play fair. Don’t take or use things that aren’t yours. And, there are consequences for bad behavior.” She went on to assert that “even children understand lying is wrong.” But do they really? The messages are often confusing.
The Center for Effective Parenting says “Children lie for a number of reasons and in many cases it is a normal part of development.” I can recall being told at a tender age, “If you can’t say anything good about someone don’t say anything at all.” It was omission not lying. Omission then opened the door to a host of nuances of the truth. There could also be selective memory and the ever popular finessed truth – better known as my version. It was never lying just versions of the truth to spare feelings, avoid awkward situations or conflict and of course to keep down the drama.
We’ve all done it, often with little or no regard to the long-term consequences. We have acted out our selective truths on the stage of the world called life with our children sitting in the front row.
It’s not just little white lies, that spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down. It’ s a international crisis shaping minds, hearts and opinions. Whose version of the Tibetan casualty count do we believe – the Chinese governments or the monks? What is the real unemployment picture – the millions really out of work or the rosier economic picture painted when only the number of people still eligible for unemployment are counted only?
Church leaders who claim to protect the sanctity of marriage say nothing about the divorce rates and unplanned pregnancies soaring right in their own congregations. Television glorifies 16-year-old “teen stars” announcing their pregnancy. The local and national “news” is often focused on the make-ups, break-ups and hook-ups of “stars” while teen pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and the poor live lives of quiet desperation unreported. Homophobic public officials get caught in restrooms trying to pick up men. A governor who came to the forefront fighting organized crime and prostitution gets busted in a prostitution sting. And yes, Detroit’s “hip hop” mayor is shown appearing to perjure himself and make a mockery of the justice system in his current “text-message” scandal.
This whole procession of indiscretions has really made me think about the truth. I am no Mother Theresa. I have omitted, finessed and even reinvented the truth as much as the next guy/gal .But this I know, as a public person – not a rock star just someone who chooses to be an active member of my community – I bear a responsibility for the “content of character” that will be defined by the communities and children I interact with.
My years as a volunteer with Detroit Summer, a multi-cultural, intergenerational, youth program/movement, has helped me see generational changes each of us can make in our walk down life’s path that is more mindful of the footprints we leave behind.
Detroit Summer asks “What might we be that our children might see?” Will we be politically correct, manipulators of the truth building concrete jungles without the moral character to provide a safe environment for our children and elders, a sustainable economy and lasting communities? I for one would trade all the new building developments, NCAA, Super Bowl and all the other “trappings” of Detroit’s renaissance to bring back one lost child, provide safe schools or let our senior citizens be safe in their homes.
In his “Rules of Civility,” George Washington, this country’s first president, wrote as his first rule that “Every action done in company, ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.” There is no quick fix, no right solution for our current crisis in character. The ultimate responsibility does lie with each of us to not just embrace diversity, demand equality, and support multi-culturalism, but through our actions and examples, provide the foundation for a community where all children will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, ethnicity, gender or gender expression but by the content of their character. A character that will be able to look back at our missteps, hypocrisy, corruptions, biases and lies, say never again and be dedicated to a beloved community where everyone is equal.

About the Author:

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Michelle E. Brown is a public speaker, activist and author. Her blog radio podcast “Collections By Michelle Brown” airs every Thursday at 7 p.m. Current and archived episodes can be heard on Blog Talk Radio, iTunes, Stitcher or SoundCloud. Follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/CollectionsbyMichelleBrown/.