The most important lesson we can instill in our children is that we have a say in what happens in our lives. Life doesn’t just happen to us. Each of us is born with both the privilege and the responsibility to pursue a plan, a direction, and a purpose for our own lives. This basic truth is especially important today as we continue to face mounting challenges as African Americans and as a nation.
This is why I am so troubled when I see people who appear to have no plan for their lives. They are discouraged to the point of settling for mere existence, without goals, dreams, and aspirations, or making any apparent effort to realize them. You see them, too—though you may try not to—on street corners in your neighborhood, or perhaps along your commute to work: people, many of them teens and young adults, living day to day, without direction or appreciation for the value of their own time. Every day is the same for them. There’s no difference between a Saturday and a Tuesday. They are idle, and for too many of them, idleness leads to counterproductive lifestyles and behavior potentially destructive to themselves and our communities. Too often, when I ask young people about their goals or ambitions, the response is a shrug, a blank stare, or a disinterested “I don’t know.” This is unacceptable.
Certainly, our recent Great Recession and painstakingly slow economic recovery have not been a source of motivation for the directionless. With black unemployment at 13%, and an appalling 30% or more for African American males in some cities (and that doesn’t even include those who’ve stopped trying to find a job), we have a growing population of people who’ve never had a job, much less a career to aspire to. So certainly, we must continue, in both the public and private sectors, to work to create jobs and educational opportunities, including resources to help make entrepreneurship a more viable option.
However, that won’t be enough, even as our economy continues to improve. Beyond the unemployed, too many people are just disengaged and rudderless, without a plan or vision for their lives. If this doesn’t change, not only will they lack the initiative to prepare for and pursue new opportunities, they run the risk of being hardly conscious of their existence.
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