The Dr. Martin L. King Jr. Holiday moved at glacier speed but kept moving. “When someone shows you their worst side believe it,” Maya Angelou once said, not referring to the fact that legislation was introduced to honor King four days after his 1968 assassination. Or how a 1979 vote in the U.S. House of Representatives fell five votes short but became law on Nov. 2, 1983. Angelou was talking about the truth of the matter. You must move on after cold realities surface.
“Reaching out to our youth is more relevant now than ever before,” said the Rev. Bobby Huntley, 53, a pastor and a father who launched The Gentlemen’s Club eight years ago with Educator Paul Arrington.
The group helps young at-risk males in Virginia Beach avoid pitfalls. Members are required to wear suits and ties to most meetings, and to steer away from gangs and anti-social behavior. Huntley has pastored Test of Faith Church of Divine Deliverance in Virginia Beach for a decade.
This month he celebrated 19 years of marriage with his wife, Angelia. They have four sons and a daughter.
“Our youth are spiraling out of control at an alarming rate,” said Huntley who launched the group at Plaza Middle School with 20 students. That number increased to 60 students by the end of the 2003 school year. Over 500 youth have participated in the program in the past eight years at two Virginia Beach middle schools, and Renaissance Academy High School.
“This malignancy has been going on for quite some time,” Huntley said. “You can’t pick up a newspaper, turn on the TV, or listen to the radio without someone addressing the major issues concerning our youth.”
“This nation is facing an epidemic of violence and corruption that is not only destroying our youth, our culture, but also crippling society as a whole,” he continued. “I’m afraid that if we as a nation do not come together, do not come up with a meaningful solution to change the direction of our youth, then we as adults have become contributors to the problem.”
Schools in Maryland, Alabama, and Connecticut have contacted Huntley. A mother whose son participated in the group asked him to write a self-help book. He wrote Mother’s Please. He has written a total of five books.
“Our first field trip each year is to the Virginia Beach jail,” Huntley said. “Only high school students can tour the jail. But, our middle school-school students can take the jail tour because our group is so well-behaved,” he said.
“In 2012, we took 22 members and five parents on a chartered bus to Washington, D.C., where we toured the White House and the MLK Monument,” he said. The group also holds an annual banquet and awards ceremony where parents and members describe the impact the club has had on their lives.
Each year tears and handkerchiefs are common at the banquet, like they were routine after the Zimmerman acquittal was announced. And tears and handkerchiefs were familiar sights after Dr. King’s assassination was announced in 1968.
Cold realities and time lines often move at glacier speed. Glaciers form on top of mountains and slide down because the weight builds up. Bitter biting realities do not move away overnight. After the King assassination, Michigan Congressman John Conyers introduced a bill four days after King was killed but it stalled. Conyers and New York Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm resubmitted the King Holiday legislation every legislative session. Gaining traction during the 1982 and 1983 civil rights marches in Washington, the holiday finally became law. President Ronald Reagan signed the legislation into law in a White House Rose Garden ceremony in 1983.
In other words, disappointment and failure are often transitory. On the road to the White House Abraham Lincoln failed in business in 1831. Defeated in an 1832 election for a legislative seat, he had a nervous breakdown in 1836. From 1838-1860, Lincoln experienced multiple failures in Congress, lost an 1855 Senate bid, and failed to win the vice presidency in 1856.
“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure,” said Lincoln who won the presidency in 1860.
On the heels of the Zimmerman acquittal, the effort to move forward is evident. Trayvon Martin’s older brother, Jahvaris Fulton, 22, is working as an intern for Florida Representative Frederica Wilson, according to NBC News. The Florida International University student participates in the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project, a mentoring program for at-risk boys living in Miami, created by the Democratic congresswoman.
In Hampton Roads hundreds honored the slain youth at Mount Trashmore, Hampton University, Town Center in Virginia Beach, and at I.C. Norcom High. Portsmouth Mayor Kenneth Wright attended that event and urged people to get involved in politics.”
“There is a take away from all this,” Wright said. “People need to get involved in the political process and understand how to make their voices heard so they can impact laws and change laws.”
It is a sign of the times as many folks move in a positive direction. For instance, 10 former all-black male contestants on American Idol filed a $25 million lawsuit alleging they were kicked off the show because of race. The contestant’s attorney, James H. Freeman, alleges the show illegally looked into the arrest records of the contestants to humiliate them. The lawsuit says only African American singers were questioned about having criminal records. According to news reports, neither the network nor the show has responded to the suit.
Meanwhile, Norfolk is completing paperwork that will make it the second city in South Hampton Roads that will not ask job seekers about their criminal history on job applications. Portsmouth removed the question from many of its applications in April.
The change may not apply to all city jobs, though. For example, the question would still be part of public safety applications. The city will also continue to do background checks and drug screenings. As of July 1, the city started doing national fingerprinting background checks.
“It does not require employers to hire people with criminal records,” Assistant City Manager Sabrina Joy-Hogg recently told city council. “Merely, it removes a perception, and it promotes hiring based on qualifications.”
After officials finish developing the new policy, the city will stand as one of only a handful in the commonwealth to delete the question. That, officials said, could happen by Sept. 1.
Meanwhile, some cheered and others hissed after President Barack Obama commented on the Zimmerman acquittal. “Obama’s remarks are notable for what he did not address,” Aura Bogado wrote in a July 19 editorial in The Washington Post. “And what so rarely gets addressed when we discuss racism today: white America’s responsibility for it.”
“Obama used the words black or African Americans 17 times and the word white only once,” Bogado continued. “Obama gave whiteness a pass. He gave it power by masking it, and making it silent.”
In any event, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently awarded a $1.2 million grant that could ease the strain boys and young men of color encounter. The funds were awarded to BCT Partners and Frontline Solutions, a minority-owned company headed by Dr. Randal Pinkett. The funds will help young men get a good education, find a job, and start a public discussion about the challenging climate young black men encounter.
The effort to transform the Zimmerman acquittal into a triumph like the King Holiday proceeds. “You must make a decision that you are going to move on,” Joel Osteen said, in Your Best Life Now.” It won’t happen automatically. You will have to rise up and say, ‘I don’t care how hard this is, I don’t care how disappointed I am, I’m not going to let this get the best of me. I’m moving on with my life.”
Or as Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Far better is it to dare mighty things.”