Dr. Kwame Nantambu

Mentoring T&T's Youths

By Dr. Kwame Nantambu
April 19, 2011

While the People's Partnership (PP) government's National Mentoring Programme should be widely lauded, much more needs to be done/analyzed in order to confront and deal with the ubiquitous "criminal gang culture" in T&T.

The fact of the matter is that the proclivity to commit crime among this country's "at risk" youths is values-oriented-related-driven.

Indeed, no where in this national conversation is anyone admitting that the education system has failed and is failing these "at risks" youths. These young people just didn't appear from out of nowhere. They are the products, albeit failed products, of T&T's education system.

The stark reality is that upon completion of their schooling, these young people cannot even write a grammatically correct sentence, far less, a paragraph. They also lack the basic wherewithal to lead a descent, legal life; put another way, they lack the 3Rs--- Reading, 'Riting and 'Rithmetic.

In sum, they are unemployable in society. In addition, they lack the vital skills of deduction in order to make sound, informed decisions about life.

Ergo, they become very vulnerable and unable to handle/deal with the serious/deadly /self-destructive ramifications of anti-social behaviour.

And when one adds the elimination of corporal punishment in the nation's public schools, these "at risk" youths have now automatically become uncontrollable, loose cannons in society. In the process, they have lost all respect for adult authority.

The school is no longer seen as the citadel for learning, acquisition of knowledge and life skills; it has become the playground for the venting of ant-social behaviour.

Another element that must be added is the overt Americanization of all aspects of life in T&T 24-7-365. This is the crucial causal factor /variable that everyone has totally missed, period.

And the sad tragedy is that these failed educated youths have now become ready clients of this powerful, subliminal American magnetic force.

Ergo, they automatically gravitate to the African-American ghetto way of life. They adopt /emulate the African-American ghetto slang language; their life is now subsumed in bling-bling and other external trappings; they also adopt/emulate the African-American ghetto mannerisms in walking. Against this extreme negative/self-destructive background, a life of crime, by definition, seems like an honourable alternative for these youths or "youth men."

But it does not stop there. These "at risk" youths are also glued to American BET and BET J television programming of violent gangster-oriented movies, ghetto gang behaviour, rap music with its attractive anti-social lyrics 24-7-365. As such, Tupac Shakur becomes their revered role model.

Hence, it need occasion no great surprise that the latest intoxication of T&T's youths is the irresistible magnetic force of the Jamaican ghetto-driven inter-school gang violence between the "Giza" and "Gaza" groups.

Furthermore, because of their failed education status, these youths cannot have Malcolm X as their revered role model because Malcolm X not only knew the meaning of every word in Webster's Dictionary but he was also able to publicly debate academics with a Ph. D degrees in the United States and students at Oxford University in Britain. The first African-American President of the United States cannot also be their revered role model because he has a law degree from the ivy league Harvard University.

As a result of their failed educated status, these "at risk" youths are stuck in the cement of negativity and self-destructive/anti-social behaviour which feeds and festers upon itself to the nth degree.

And this overt, societal negativity comes to the fore when these youths begin to internalize the "50 cent philosophy" to the dangerous extent that they are determined, by any and all means necessary, to "get rich quick or die trying." This is scary but it is the reality among the youths in T&T today.

In this context, these "at risk" youths also internalize the mind-set of the African-American ghetto criminals/gangsters in terms of their dress whereby they wear their pants down to their knees with their underwear on public display. "Madness, total madness."

Indeed, the scary aspect of the above reality is that these youths or "youth men" regard this African-American ghetto life style as "cool", "hip" and "together". "Madness, total madness."

Their comfort zone now becomes gang membership, period. As a result of the total breakdown in the traditional family structure in T&T, their house is no longer a home and their fellow gang members are their de jure external family kit and kin.

And no one can or even dare convince them of any other lifestyle.

In this sad regard, Ella Andall's apocalyptic admonition that "there is a missing generation out there" needs to be updated to read: "there is a lost generation out there". And we know who they are.

The fact of the matter is that any National Mentoring Programme must begin in the home. The political, public policy-makers must realize and be cognizant of the fact that school violence, disrespect for adult authority, drug use, disruption of classes, etc., begin at home; they only end up in the school. The family home is the sole, root cause, period. This must be made perfectly clear.

Ergo, for any National Mentoring Programme to be effective/successful, it must deal with the endemic cause of the problem and not the results/effects of the problem.

It is this writer's humble opinion that it is this causal policy approach that is the missing link in the PP's government programme to deal with the "criminal gang culture" among youths in T&T.

By way of elucidation, the deceased African- American comedian Richard Pryor once remarked: "If you see an ugly child in the street, go home and look at the parents.

Translation: If a young person comes to school and curses the adult teacher, disrespects the authority of the adult teacher, disrupts classes, uses and distributes drugs, engages in violent behaviour, etc., then, the solution to this problem is to investigate the home environment of that student. This is not rocket science. Charity is not the only life factor that begins at home--- all the above-mentioned also do among youths in T&T today. The home is the root cause, period, not the school.

It must be clearly understood that the crime-oriented lifestyle/values of the nation's youths is learned behaviour--- behaviour that is learned at home and in the community (cause), not at school (results/effects).

Indeed, if the PP government wants to realize an effective/successful National Mentoring Programme, then, this writer strongly recommends that the American BET and BET J channels be immediately pulled/expunged from T&T's television line-up, period. These are the root causes of the problem of "criminal gang culture" among T&T's youths.

In addition, the education system should be restructured so as to graduate employable products of society, as in students.

The salient fact of the matter is that the "dependency syndrome" should no longer be a variable in public policy formulation. In addition, young people must be imbued with life's reality that "to earn tomorrow, you got to learn today." They must be taught that there are no short-cuts or free meals in life, especially in the era of today's economic meltdowns.

In the final analysis, the rampant gang-related crime activities among T&T's youths underscore the stark reality that the short-sighted policies of previous governments have all but assured that "the chickens have come home to roost."

Now is the time for a real, genuine, holistic policy approach to this vexing but not intractable societal problem. Now is the opportune time to deal with the endemic, root cause at home rather than with the results/effects at school. Any National Mentoring Programme must be home-community-based, period.

Shem Hotep ("I go in peace").

Dr. Kwame Nantambu is a part-time lecturer at Cipriani College of Labour and Co-operative Studies.

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