If the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. were alive today — he undoubtedly would be a spry 84-year-old — and visited Youngstown, what would he say about the state of the black community?
It’s a question worth pondering given that blacks now make up 60 percent of the declining population in a city that’s struggling to overcome such deeply entrenched problems as crime, high unemployment among young blacks and an even higher number of black males behind bars.
Last Wednesday, America’s first mixed race (black father, white mother) president, Barack Obama, participated in the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and waxed eloquent about Dr. King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
On Aug. 28, 1963, more than 250,000 people jammed the National Mall to hear the civil rights leader and Baptist minister use Scripture and prose to describe an America free of the shackles of racism and segregation.
It was a defining moment in the history of the nation. It ignited the passions of blacks throughout the country and tugged at the heartstrings of fair-minded white Americans, including decision-makers in Washington.
President Obama, whose election is the manifestation of the struggle for civil and political rights for all Americans, noted the progress that has been made over the years in fulfilling Dr. King’s dream “… that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character.”
But while giant steps have been taken in tearing down the barriers that were the cause of so much pain and suffering for blacks, the plight of many today could best be described as desperate.
Therefore, it’s time for an updated version of “I Have a Dream,” one that addresses some of the seemingly intractable problems plaguing the black community. Youngstown serves as the ideal social laboratory.
But who would deliver the new version of the speech?
There is an individual with the popularity and credibility of Dr. King and who already has shown a willingness to tell the truth about the problems within his community.
Bill Cosby, a world renowned entertainer and long-time social commentator, has angered some black leaders for his public criticism of old and young.
In one of his widely publicized critiques, Cosby blasted black parents whose priorities are skewed. For instance, they buy their children expensive sneakers but fail to ensure they have proper communication skills, he said.
In reference to the civil rights movement in which blacks demanded education equality, Cosby said: “These people marched and were hit in the face with rocks to get an education and now we’ve got these knuckleheads walking around. I can’t even talk the way these people talk: ‘Why you ain’t,’ Where you is’ …” He said he blamed the child until he heard the mother and father talk.
“Everyone knows it’s important to speak English except these knuckleheads,” the well-respected entertainer said. “You can’t be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth.”
Not surprisingly, Cosby’s comments ignited a firestorm within the community, but they brought out many defenders. The issue was debated in newspapers, on radio, on the Internet and around the water cooler.
But, Cosby refused to back down, telling the British newspaper, the Daily Mail, “I feel that I can no longer remain silent. If I have to make a choice between keeping quiet so that conservative media does not speak negatively or ringing the bell to galvanize those who want to change in the lower economic community, then I choose to be a bell ringer.”
And that’s exactly what Youngstown needs, someone to ring the bell to draw attention to the state of emergency.
Of particular concern is the culture of dependence on government, which has given rise to a generation of non-productive individuals.
That was not what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had in mind when he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech 50 years ago.
What would he say about the black youth in cities like Youngstown? Exactly what Bill Cosby said.