The Rev. Jesse Jackson boldly marched into Detroit to showcase a new workers’ initiative for “jobs, justice and peace.” He rounded up the usual collection of collaborators; labor leaders, seasoned and wannabe politicians and activists. Arm-in-arm they paraded down Jefferson Ave. to Grand Circus Park where he delivered a classic uplifting speech. Jackson departed, leaving the city pretty much like he found it – rudderless and adrift.
I don’t mean to suggest Rev. Jackson, the self-anointed champion of the working class, is the problem. Detroit is a city in crisis — a tragedy of terrible and costly consequences in lost hope, lost lives and a lost sense of community. But if marching could remedy what ails the dysfunctional city, the healing would have begun when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his first “I Have a Dream” speech in Detroit almost 50 years ago. This march was less about Rebuilding America than it was about regenerating Jackson’s dominion and personal profile.
The march did, however, reveal how much Detroiters are starved for icons that are capable of formulating an aggressive plan for the city’s revival, if not survival. Thousands felt compelled to answer Jackson’s call. Arguably, the large turnout was a testament to the deepening crisis of intellectual impoverishment among those who profess to be Detroit’s leaders.
Nowhere to be found are respected community elders to provide roadmaps for residents to make a smoother entry into the heart of society. Missing are committed agents of change who see it as their duty and responsibility to speak out against self-generated destructive forces that hold back the poor.
As much as anything, Detroiters suffer from a poverty of the spirit. This behavioral deficiency reveals itself as a breakdown in the conduct and values that lead to self-sufficiency and the formation of healthy families and communities. An erosion of the work ethic, lack of educational aspiration and achievement, and the inability or unwillingness to control one’s children are all byproducts of the social deficits.
Establishing peace should start on the streets of Detroit, some of the deadliest in America. Violence has been a growing concern for years. Yet too few voices in the city acknowledge or rise to the challenges facing the current generation of youth — premature death, ending their mass imprisonment, preventing the uneducated and unemployed from becoming the city’s fastest growing segment.
Nothing contributes more to their joblessness than poor schools. But where were the voices of rage and indignation as the public school system with its daunting deficiencies imploded and deprived children of basic reading and math skills and opportunity?
Are the traditional voices of reason that encourage moral accountability, good manners and neat appearance immune or simply indifferent? With no positive reinforcement too many young people assume that these traits are neither expected nor demanded of them.
There are still caring people who do more than march, sing and pray. Some work doggedly and tirelessly behind the scenes every day to address adverse situations. They are surely the real and greatest heroes. Their small victories, though, are the only reminders of a bygone era in which a once proud, competent and respected leadership reigned. That leadership class is now impotent.
The city’s pressing needs require respected men and women to rise again and organically begin the serious interdiction and eradication of the dysfunctions that are now of historic proportions.
Those who answer the stewardship challenge will reinforce the enduring link between behavior, success and failure. They will collectively possess a uniform and clear message. They will stand as beacons and provide meaningful direction to the children and lay claim to their lives and futures. They will understand that modifying the behavior of people in distress is no task for the faint of heart.
They will not stage a self-serving rally in the heart of downtown. They will not be mesmerized by the likes of Jesse Jackson’s empty rhetoric. They will not march to his drumbeat into oblivion.