By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
July 30, 2019
With things getting hotter and deadlier, one recognizes how far our society has gone out of joint. With criminals finding more ingenious ways to avenge their grievances—like taking a boat from Sea Lots to catch their targets unaware in Las Cuevas—one wonders if the government and/or civic organizations are as ingenious as the criminals in getting the society back on an even keel.
The government may have to use greater force to bring things back under control, although one wonders if more hardware in the hands of our police and the army is the best way to tackle the problem of wonton killing. One also wonders how well we are using soft power to shape the minds of our younger population.
We know that deviant behavior—manifested in wanton criminality—begins in one’s mind and a feeling of un-belonging within the larger social community. Gangs give young men and women feelings of acceptance and belonging. If these propositions are true, every effort should be made to get into the minds of our children and younger people before their attitudes about life and its possibilities congeal into permanent distrust and alienation.
The government ought to place greater emphasis on educational, social, and cultural programs for our young people. While they might not solve the immediate problems of criminality and social dispossession, they possess enormous possibilities for solving the deep strain of criminality within certain segments of the black community. We must redouble our efforts to combat tendencies of criminality and social deviance within our black communities.
Several years ago while the PNM was in power I submitted a memo to Prime Minister Patrick Manning urging his government to include an educational component into the CEPEP program. Everyone who is employed in CEPEP should be mandated to attend classes a few times a week.
Such a program was not meant to transform these workers into scholars but to impact the mindsets of their children. Since children learn by imitation they are likely to do what their parents do. Seeing their parents open a book (the internet was not in vogue then) would likely encourage their children to do the same. The PNM still regrets (or should regret) that it did not implement this idea.
As the leader of the National Association for the Empowerment of African People, we ran a summer program (more appropriately an August program) for young people. Students were exposed to well-known international and national educators who offered lectures on various subjects of interest. We even ran a basketball camp with a coach from the USA. Students were provided with free meals and received a stipend.
Similar programs should be dotted throughout our landscape during the August vacation. They should include people who are accomplished in their fields—sporting, educational, cultural, and social—who could serve as models for these young people. Such programs not only provide information they also provide discipline and a belief in oneself. Exposure to successful individuals can show our youngsters how to use their time productively.
Sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to scrap the Toco-Manzanilla highway and pump that money ($2-5 billion dollars) into social, educational, sporting, and academic programs for our young people and our children. Might it not be better to favor young minds (spiritual/intellectual) over roads (material/infrastructural) at this point of our social development?
A few nights ago I saw a BBC program, “Generation Porn,” which argued that young people get most of their information about sex and sexuality via the internet. None of them felt they could speak with their parents about their sexuality or, worse yet, pornography. I don’t think I ever spoke with my children about these topics. Speaking with and listening to our children might be one way to conquer the pornography of the mind we are now experiencing.
We live in the age of the internet where information is transmitted instantly to our children minus the intervention of parents’ supervision. Any program that seeks to understand how young people cognize their reality must utilize this source of information transferral. It must be used as an educational tool within well-defined parameters.
What are the causes of the rising criminality? The breakdown of the immediate family and the weakening of our social communities seem to affect black youngsters disproportionately. There is nothing in their genes that makes them behave in destructive ways. What we place in their minds and how we construct their social environment are significant factors in their development. Government programs should work more closely with families and the larger social community to get into the minds of youths.
The input of youths is also important in constructing their development. They should also tell us the mistakes we have made and how we went wrong.
Each ethnic group has much at stake in solving this problem. Each group, in its own way, should partner with black people to increase our social and cultural capital in the community. It makes sense. All of us are feeling the impact of this deviant behavior.
Boris Johnson, UK’s prime minister, promises that if the British people left Brexit without a deal with the EU, by 2050 their “children will be living longer, happier, wealthier lives.” Theirs would be a society of “electric aircraft, blight-resistant crops and revived seaside towns, with Union Jack flagged satellites orbiting above a contented kingdom” (Financial Times, July 26.)
He might be peddling myths, but can any political group in our country offer a comparative myth that suggests our lives will be changed anytime soon? After all, myths tend to brighten and lighten the national mood.