Sunday, July 27, 2008

Reflections On Soledad Obrien's CNN ''Black In America' series, Part 1

I am generally pretty hopeful about the plight of America with regard to the issues of race and poverty. Some may argue that I am being more naïve and Pollyannaish as opposed to hopeful. But what I know about history, the human drama and what I believe God shows us in that history and drama, is that ultimately we find a way to achieve measures of triumph in spite of the challenge.

Peoples and cultures live, thrive and pass off the scene, and at some point they are replaced by the glory and gore of new peoples and cultures who inherit and live by the legends and lore of those who have gone on.
That’s the way I watched Soledad O’Brien’s CNN special on Black America, most especially the episode regarding Black men and the plight of the family. Stories about Black fathers who would not marry the mothers of their children; the recitation of statistics regarding drop out rates, unemployment, interaction with the legal system, incarceration, drug abuse and the myriad explanations and experimental solutions to address all of these maladies.

The stories are sometimes hard to hear. For some, the pathologies drown out the success stories interwoven throughout the stories of failure: Everett Dyson, is a prison lifer who is also the younger brother of preacher and Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson; volunteers in Houston who look for high school dropouts, trying to convince them to re-enroll and graduate. They get one young man to go back to school only to have him drop out again, contrast that with a young Harvard professor, Roland Fryer to develop solutions to intervene early even if that means paying young Black students to do well in school. Not to mention that behind it all, is the journalist who brings us the special is one of the most accomplished T.V. reporters, black or white, in the country. There are other images that the documentary special showed – hard working families, poor and middle class. We see single fathers struggling to raising their children and and we are exposed to positive images of a rising middle class, in the African-American community.
Those interwoven stories are, for me, the signs of hope that keep me encouraged.

I watched an episode of Hopkins, the ABC reality series which depicts the heroic efforts of physicians in the emergency room of the famed Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland. One segment stood out in particular.
Ben Carson, the renowned neurosurgeon, has to explain to a family that their young daughter, a victim of a drowning accident is essentially brain dead. This family has to make the dreadful decision to either remove life support or continue to allow her to continue. Everything hinges upon whether they believe the experts and whether their faith dictates recovery against all odds.
Although they initially decide to keep her on the machine, they eventually relent and discontinue life support.

It is a metaphor regarding the choices we have, regarding the poor and marginalized of our country, whatever their color.

There are those who say give up. I even have one person who sometimes (too often) replies to my op-ed pieces. He says the only solution is to sterilize poor people. Sad as he is, it is unfortunate that there are others who think just like him!
But there are others who believe as I do, that we are on our way to producing more Michael Eric Disowns, more Ben Carsons, and more Roland Fryers, more Soledad Obrien’s to continue to make a difference going forward.

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