By Barney Blakeney
I had to ask myself, “What have we done?” after receiving the police report about the 26-year-old man accused of shooting two people two years ago at a West Ashley Chuck E. Cheese’s Family Fun Center and Arcade and the January 3 shooting of another man in North Charleston. A few days later a friend told me she recently attended the funeral of a 19-year-old who is the son of another friend. She said she asked someone what happened to the young man and was told, “He got caught up.” He’d been involved in some gang activity and had, in the past, shot somebody who evidently retaliated. Where did we go wrong, what did we do wrong that leads to so many young black men killing each other?
I often use the term “failure is not an option” when talking about stuff that has dire consequences – most often when talking about our piss poor public education system in Charleston County. We fail so many kids it would be laughable if the consequences weren’t so dire. We failed that 26-year-old young man. He started out as a babbling brown bundle of joy in some mother’s arms; tickled her fancy as he goo-goo-gah-gahed his way into her heart. She probably more than once called him her little ‘stinker’ as she changed his diapers and burst with joy watching him take his first steps.
Somewhere along the way to his manhood we dropped the ball. Our screwed up system failed to catch him as he began falling into an abyss of violent behavior. The safety net that should have caught him as he fell deeper into a subculture so many of our young experience either wasn’t there or he slipped through one of the many holes so big it’s almost as if the net wasn’t there at all. He likely fell through many layers of ineffective netting.
About a year ago I got some disturbing stats from a member of Charleston County School Board. Nine percent of African American kids in Charleston County are ‘career-ready’ which we quantify by Silver Work Keys level, the board member said. Boeing requires the equivalent of Gold Work Keys level, which means nearly all of our African American grads (91 percent) are not qualified to work at Boeing or Volvo after at least 13 years with CCSD.
Less than four percent of our African American grads are “college-ready” with a 23+ ACT score, he continued. Ninety percent of our grads have to take a remedial course before beginning ‘for credit’ courses at Trident Tech; 84 percent of our African-American kids don’t read on grade level by third grade; less than half of our kids, black or white, improve by a grade level each year, resulting in a slow slide backwards with each year. Those are our results in one of the richest districts in the state where we spend 27 percent more per pupil than Greenville County (the richest district in the state), he said.
We know we’ve got problems. Some folks are trying to address them. Charleston Accelerated Academy is a unique S.C. Public Charter School helping young adults overcome real-life challenges to earn their district or state-issued high school diploma. The school opened at the Septima Clark Academy site on James Island September 5. It will open a second site at Trident Tech’s North Charleston campus in February. The school serves students ages 16-21 through non-traditional approaches that incorporate web-based curriculum and technology, individualized learning plans, hands-on life and career coaching and flexible hours and scheduling. There’s another group that will unveil its focus on public schools to Charleston County School Board later this month. But that’s not enough.
Last weekend I saw an episode of Carolina Business Review in which the panelists discussed the future of our region’s workforce. Automation is going to displace some 40 percent of today’s workers in the next 15-20 years, they said, and dynamics in our population will result in too few workers in the near future as well. President Donald Trump’s inaccurate rhetoric about U.S. immigration policies ignores that the U.S. will not have the manpower to fill labor demands in the future, they said.
Most reliable sources say while the U.S. has about five percent of the world’s population, it has about 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated individuals. I googled this info: “In 2015, the most recent year for which data are available, about 126,000 prisoners were held in privately operated facilities under the jurisdiction of 29 states and the federal Bureau of Prisons. That’s an 83 percent increase since 1999, the first year with comparable data, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).” Prison is big business in the U.S.
That 26-year-old brother, he’s no accident. We created him. He feeds a diabolical system, one that swallows whole our children. Our failure is in allowing that system to be perpetuated. We are both its creators and victims. What have we done?