This is his commentary is from January 27th.
We'll see in New Orleans that hopelessness can't father change: Jarvis DeBerry
We had spent more than an hour talking, a small group of black men, from high-school age to middle-age. In nearby rooms at Xavier University's Norman C. Francis building, similarly sized groups of black men were talking, too: about our childhoods, about the relationships we did or (in far too many cases) did not have with our fathers. About our definitions of masculinity, about overcoming obstacles and disproving stereotypes.
I had been asked to facilitate the conversation, but I'll admit that at times the stories of the hurt and the brokenness were too much to bear. Take the man who, when asked to share his fondest memory from childhood, announced that he'd never had a childhood. Starting at age 7, he said, he was assigned the care of his younger siblings. And he was consistently being screamed at and struck by his mother for the most minor infractions. He was 12 when he asked her to tell him who his daddy was. Her response: "Why do you want to know?"He grabbed a knife that day, he said, and slashed up the pillow on his bed.
I've come to realize that one of my flaws is my belief that talking things out is inherently therapeutic, that honest conversation surely heralds positive and significant change. That's why I was shaken up by the answer a man from the B.W. Cooper housing development gave to the last question on my list: "What can you do, based on some of the lessons you've learned along your life path, to help make positive change in a young person's life?"
He said, "Nothing."
I'm still trying to interpret the grin that accompanied his answer. I think it was a more of a smirk than anything, his way of saying that everything we had discussed that day wouldn't amount to anything, that our talking was futile because the situation he sees every day is hopeless.
We had begun the morning with statistics provided by the Children's Defense Fund, including this one: A black boy born in 2001 has a 1 in 3 chance of going to prison. The Children's Defense Fund and New Orleans' Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies summoned a cross-section of black men to discuss what can be done to interrupt what the CDF calls a "cradle to prison pipeline."
I wouldn't have participated in Saturday's conversation if I'd thought the situation hopeless, and it surprised me that somebody who does think it hopeless showed up. As disturbing as the man's response was, though, it was enlightening. If this apparently decent man who took the time Saturday to participate in the discussion thinks it is impossible to prevent young people from morphing into monsters, what do his less involved neighbors think?
It's unclear where the answers to our crime problem will come from. With every shocking crime this city experiences the answer seems more distant still. But we can be assured that no answer will emerge from hopelessness. People who don't believe that change is possible cannot be counted on to produce it.
It's almost as unreasonable to expect broken people to create healthy communities, but those were the people who convened Saturday to give it a try, men who in so many ways are still wounded even as they are asked to display leadership. The former child who'd been thrust into a father-like role without even knowing his father's name stood next to me as we lined up for lunch. He said he wonders sometimes "why I'm not crazy."
It is a wonder. It's a good thing that the abused and neglected boy that he was took out his rage on a pillow. Others in his circumstances have done much more damage. They've done violence to people.
Jarvis DeBerry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 504.826.3355. Follow him at http://connect.nola.com.user/user/jdeberry/indext.html and at twitter.com/jarvisdeberrytp.