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Prioritize Protests

By Barney Blakeney

With all the hullabaloo about the Palmetto Rose Kids, ignored in the discussion is workforce training for grown folks. While the issues of Black kids selling Palmetto Roses is important and speaks to a lot of pivotal issues in our society, focusing on kids selling handcraft is like treating a festering sore with a Band-Aid.

At 16, I wasn’t about selling no roses on the street. I had a real job – eight hours per day/40 hours per week after school. It helped out a lot. Dad was dead, mom had three other mouths to feed and I liked nice things.

By the time I was 16, all my friends had jobs, even if only during summers. We had to have them (imitation) silk pants and Italian knit shirts. It was cool to wear expensive clothes. I paid more for my clothes than my mom paid the house we lived in. If only I knew then what I know now!

Okay, things have changed since I was a kid, so I won’t knock what the rose kids are doing. I understand some of them make pretty good money. I’m also hearing some get robbed. I haven’t heard of anybody getting hurt. But then, I don’t hear everything. I also hear some kids are puttin’ a hurtin’ on palmetto trees on private property.

Fortunately, kids adapt. Despite that we fail to teach them what they need to become productive citizens, I think the majority of them will be alright in spite of our negligence.

It’s too bad that our kids are at the forefront of an economic battle that should be waged elsewhere. While protests often are legitimate, there are protest profiteers among us, people whose livelihood and lifestyle depends on random protest. Protests shouldn’t be random. There must be an end-game.

 Like everything else, a protest has its place. But protest without purpose is just raisin’ hell, and any fool can raise hell. Protest partnered with planning and purpose becomes a movement. I’m not a strategist. Heck, I can’t figure out my own life! But I’m no dummy.

I’ve lived a long time, seen a lot of stuff and learned a lot. I long ago realized I don’t know everything. And I’m smart enough to realize that there are many others who know what I don’t.

It makes good sense to get together with some of those folks to figure out how to approach this thing called life. So to my brothers and sisters protesting this palmetto rose thing, I hope you get with others to develop a comprehensive strategy to deal with the big picture.

And what is that big picture? It’s economics, baby. It all comes down to the money. Negroes are protesting Charleston’s apology for its role in slavery – some white folks don’t want to apologize and some Black folks refuse to accept it – Negroes need to stop this emotional response to economic realities.

Nobody’s going to respond to you or your kids because it’s the right thing to do or because you done got all hyped. They’ll respond if it’s the expedient thing to do. And you can bet their response almost always will be one that’s advantageous to them, not you! We must deploy our resources – protest and negotiations – in ways that will make the response advantageous to us!

I applaud the young ones who are out there on the frontlines confronting the system that exploits us. I just think they need more targeted objectives.

I’m hearing tourism in Charleston is a $9 billion industry. Nebulous concepts like protesting at the Customs House till they treat us right sounds good, but may not get the job done. Pick a target and go get ‘em! A few years back some preachers hit Charleston Place Hotel. They had some success.

This thing is bigger than some kids selling handmade roses. I think grown folks – beyond their parents teaching them some manners and respect for other peoples’ property – should leave those kids alone. Beyond that we perhaps should protest that Black households in Charleston County earn a median income of $32,000 annually compared to white households which earn a median income of $73,000 annually.

You do the math. It offers some indication why our kids are on the streets selling roses when they should be studying school work and later being at the park on a swing or playing ball.

Yeah protest, but Boeing just committed $100 million for workforce training. Some of that money should go to Black community organizations and institutions dedicated to workforce development. We also should be protesting at boardroom tables for collaborations. I’ve written a couple of stories about Trident Tech’s efforts.

One is the Youth Apprenticeship Program designed for rising high school juniors and seniors and graduating seniors. Apprentices receive paid on-the-job training while taking both high school and college classes. At the end of the two-year program, the students have a high school diploma, a college certificate, a U.S. Dept. of Labor journeyman credential, paid work experience, and most likely a job offer by the company where they have worked.

All tuition, books and other costs are paid by the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, said David Hansen director, Trident Tech Public Information. And Trident Tech offers academic and continuing education programs, many of which prepare students to work in local industries such as aircraft assembly, industrial maintenance mechanic, machine tool technology and others.

The Trump administration has launched a workforce reinvestment initiative. They say the economy is booming. I can only speak for myself, but ain’t no booming economy going on in my house. But that’s neither here nor there. If everybody else is feeling the glam, I can live wid it.

Personally I’ve always felt too many American jobs have gone overseas. Technology and automation will knock a lot more of us out the box. And I ain’t mad at any Mexicans for coming here to get the ones that’re left.

I’m just sayin’ Black folks need to get on the train – the workforce train – and stop letting short-sighted individuals push us into activities that do not address our long term economic needs. Black folks need affordable housing and transportation that allows them to live near and traverse to job centers. And we need opportunities that allow us access to those jobs.

There are a lot of things Black folks should protest. Kids selling roses are way down my list. There just are too many other ways to skin that cat.

 

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