Every community has the right to self-determination. That indisputable fact is and will always remain the anchor on which any growing community that represents the future operates from. This principle of life does not only ring true in the African American community, but also others such as the Jewish community, where there is an unbreakable bond to always promote Jewish culture as a catalyst for social and economic transformation. The long history of Jews and Blacks in the evolution of Detroit, and how they suffered, battled racism and worked together cannot fit into the pages of this newspaper. And by all accounts the Jewish community remains heavily invested in Detroit today, informed by the bitter history of their culture and identity. I received an intimate definition of that culture last Tuesday when a dear friend and colleague, Arthur Horwitz, publisher of the Detroit Jewish News, invited my family to join his for Seder dinner, the ritual meal marking the start of the Passover holiday.
At the home of the Horwitzes, close friends and relatives came out to recognize and celebrate what is the most important religious holiday in the Jewish calendar.
Because Passover represents the Jewish Exodus from captivity in Egypt and their eventual freedom, the Seder dinner was an interesting and educational experience.
We spent the evening reading from a modified version of the Hagaddah, an ancient text that explains the Seder customs and retells the story of the Exodus. The reading of the Hagaddah was punctuated with the singing of special Passover songs, drinking wine, eating matzo and other symbolic foods that graced the Seder table that night.
As we engaged in the evening ritual that served as a powerful reminder of an individual’s ability to break the barriers of life and become an agent of change, I was observing the participation of the young people around the table. They demonstrated a mastery of the dictates of the Seder customs and songs and having a clear-cut understanding of the Hagaddah. Their participation that night showed that the history of their culture and identity has been embedded in them since infancy.
The children have a strong perspective of and pride in the essence of Judaism as the bedrock of their presence and future. For children to make a difference in society, they have to be rooted in the history of their people, have a strong sense of identity and a vision for the collective well-being of their community. If you feel connected to a whole, you feel a sense of identity, belonging and safety that empowers you as you reach out for higher goals.
Let’s be clear there is no way one can effectively engage the outside without having a good understanding of the inside and a dynamic support base from within.
This explains why Arthur Horwitz during our lunch meetings makes a point to underscore the importance of empowering young people today for a better Detroit. He believes that a growing Southeast Michigan is tied to the extent to which we empower tomorrow’s leaders to assert themselves as the masters of their destinies and communities.
This discussion should not make anyone in our community who believes in the future uncomfortable. Every adult in this city should be measured by their ability to understand, motivate and encourage young people to become better representatives of the future. We cannot say we believe in a future where the principle figures have been demoralized, discouraged, and despised and yet we still expect a vibrant tomorrow.
Show me young people you have empowered, invested in and delegated responsibility to and I will show you your legacy in gold. Every organization, church and civic group should have a youth policy that is rooted in programs with verifiable results.
For example each organization should commit in the next five years to ensure that school enrollment increases, drastically reduce school dropout rates, reduce crime, address incarceration and create meaningful educational and job opportunities for young people. That is the future. That is one way of getting out of the socioeconomic morass.
It is an indictment on us whenever we see young people starved of opportunities decide to leave the area in search of greener pastures.
If you are in a position of authority, whether it’s in the family, community level, politics, education, church or wherever, you should think about the following questions when you begin to reflect on your legacy.
What will you be remembered for? Did you appropriate and create opportunities for tomorrow’s state drivers? Have you created an atmosphere that allowed young people to make use of their talents and develop a sense of achievement? What concrete investments have you made in the life of a young person that bodes well for the future?
Bankole Thompson is the author of the new book, “Obama and Black Loyalty, Vol. 1,” a trilogy on President Obama. Listen to his weekly analyses Thursdays at 11:15 a.m. on “The Craig Fahle Show,” WDET-101.9FM-NPR affiliate. You can also hear him Sundays 10 p.m. on the “Obama Watch” roundtable broadcast on New York’s prominent radio station WLIB, 1190 AM, hosted by Gary Byrd. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.