contributing editors

Torrence Brannon-Reese
Los Angeles Southwest College

reese“No person is truly free, unless we wish for others what we wish for ourselves.”

Educator, entertainer, cultural advocate, and New Orleans native Torrence (Torré) Brannon-Reese graduated from Los Angeles Southwest Community College in 1990. At Southwest, he served as Student Body President, and then transferred to Cal State University, Dominguez Hills, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in African and Social Studies in 1992. That year he founded Foundation for Arts Mentoring, Leadership and Innovation (FAMLI, Inc.), a non-profit organization which helps vulnerable minority youth through two dynamic, gender-specific mentoring programs: See A Man, Be A Man and Princess 2 Queen. In 1993, Torre founded and produced the Los Angeles Malcolm X Arts, Culture and Education Festival, which eventually became the largest festival in the nation celebrating the life of the legendary human rights advocate.

A vegetarian who believes in taking care of his temple, Torré is most proud of his role as a single father to his four daughters, and now has four grandchildren whom he loves and cherishes also. He lives in Los Angeles’ Liemert Park Arts Village and credits his mother Gwendolyn as the single most influential person in his life. He may be reached via email at: torrereese@yahoo.com.


Youth Violence in Chicago & Beyond:
Why We’ve Failed Our Youth, and Where We Go from Here…

For the past 25 years, I have worked with vulnerable (at risk) youth in South Los Angeles, California. In 1992, after the Rodney King (RIP) police brutality incident and subsequent trial that freed the LAPD officers who beat him, I began to work with others in the Los Angeles Gang Truce Movement (GTM). My involvement with the GTM was an experience that I will cherish all my life, as it provided a glimpse into the kind of community-based action that is needed to quell youth violence in this nation.  The GTM was a coordinated, concentrated, unified effort on the part of local grassroots organizations and activists, ex-offenders and/or Original Gangsters (OGs), current gang members, local clergy, political and business leaders, and ordinary, concerned citizens who all came together in a collective effort to put an end to what everyone knew was senseless violence not only on the part of the LAPD, but also on the part of people (especially youth) who commit crimes in the streets of Los Angeles.

When I read the Facebook postings of some of the youngsters who were happy that the 21-year-old rapper was murdered, it became apparent to me that they have lost hope, direction and purpose in life—if they ever had it. These kids represent the sensibilities (or lack thereof) of a generation of young people who are products of a disengaged, apathetic, selfish, disinterested, non-active generation of elders (us) who have failed to do our jobs as parents, relatives, mentors, teachers, athletic coaches, social workers, and members of the community. Of course I am generalizing in this blame game; however, today’s violent young people do not occur organically, because of osmosis or some other natural occurrence; they don’t “just happen.” There is a reason for the madness of youth violence, and until we face the fact that we (society) have failed these youth, we will never begin the process of putting solutions in place.

Where it concerns the issue of who’s to blame, we might want to consider the fact that we all live in and are influenced (consciously and sub-consciously) by a violence-prone, racist, sexist, religious, spiritually and culturally intolerant society called the United States of America. In making this contention, I am not saying that America is all bad, for that would not be a true statement as there are many good things (and good people from all human ethnic groups) in America; however, it is also true that emotionally vulnerable, mis-educated, and economically and/or politically vulnerable youth tend to gravitate toward the negative; and they see a lot of negativity in this country. Just look at the presidential race in late 2012, the blame game that was played about the economy.

The news story about the 21-year-old Chicago rapper who was shot in the face—and the young people who celebrated his brutal, senseless death in Facebook postings—reveals an important truth to all of us. These Chicago youth are representative of youngsters from all ethnic groups (but particularly of African American and Latino youth) all around America, living in toxic urban environments replete with drug use and abuse, high unemployment, sexual and gender-specific exploitation, economic and cultural deprivation, and all other kinds of negative, harsh, life-altering socioeconomic conditions. Their tragic life situation has been the norm for decades, and in fact, in many cases, has gotten worse since Manchild in the Promised Land was published in 1965, the classic, searing autobiography about inner-city violence and redemption by Claude Brown (RIP).

Manchild in the Promised Land opens in dynamic fashion as young Claude takes a bullet to the stomach. As we follow Claude’s life and exploits, we bear witness to his journey through a maze of societal madness that sucks the life, and lifeblood, from human beings and entire communities. This book could have been written yesterday as he describes contributing societal factors that in this day and time (2013) remain either unchanged, or have worsened: inadequate educational systems; limited career opportunities/options for all youth, but particularly African American and Latino youth; high unemployment rates among all people of color; a senseless and costly America involvement in unwinnable foreign wars; and a growing, thriving, ineffective, privatized prison industrial complex that further perpetuates feelings of hopelessness and dangerous incidents of sexual behavior and criminal activity among all youth—but particularly among African American and Latino youth. As the NACCP “Criminal Justice Fact Sheet” accurately reports: “Together, African American and Hispanics comprised 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately one quarter of the US population” (2013).

A great man (Malcolm X) once said, “Of all our studies, history is best qualified to reward our research.” Codifying that statement, we can look at the period of the great Negro migrations from the south to the north (and then west) in the early part of the last century. Millions of Black people fled the Jim Crow-infested south in search of social equality, economic opportunity and spiritual dignity. What has resulted now in these Mid-Western and Western cities once thought to be safe havens and/or heaven on earth for people of color—cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, New York, Philadelphia and others? It is apparent, even as we live this historical moment in American history with our first Black President (whom I love and respect) sitting in the White house, that all these cities are victims of a national disease called systemic ghettorization.  

Please read the following article about the Kerner Commission Report from 1967; it identifies “the problem” and underscores America’s unwillingness to change the conditions that endanger all socioeconomically deprived youth, but particularly African American and Latino youth. Pay particular attention to what you read, and you may discover that just as legendary intellect/activist W.E.B. Dubois—an African American who earned a Harvard Ph.D. in 1895 and founded the NACCP—concluded before the end of his long (95 years) life, the Black middle class has done very little to alter conditions or affect positive change for their own kind.

“The Primary Goal Must Be a Single Society”: The Kerner Report’s “Recommendations for National Action”

President Lyndon Johnson formed an 11-member National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders in July 1967 to explain the riots that plagued cities each summer since 1964 and to provide recommendations for the future. The Commission’s 1968 report, informally known as the Kerner Report, concluded that the nation was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.” Unless conditions were remedied, the Commission warned, the country faced a “system of ’apartheid’” in its major cities. The Kerner report delivered an indictment of “white society” for isolating and neglecting African Americans and urged legislation to promote racial integration and to enrich slums—primarily through the creation of jobs, job training programs, and decent housing. President Johnson, however, rejected the recommendations. In April 1968, one month after the release of the Kerner report, rioting broke out in more than 100 cities following the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. In the following excerpts from the Kerner Report summary, the Commission predicted a grim future for American cities unless the nation undertook concerted actions leading to “a true union—a single society and a single American identity.” In 1998, 30 years after the issuance of the Report, former Senator and Commission member Fred R. Harris co-authored a study that found the racial divide had grown in the ensuing years with inner-city unemployment at crisis levels. Opposing voices argued that the Commission’s prediction of separate societies had failed to materialize due to a marked increase in the number of African Americans living in suburbs.

In closing, let me simply state that “we” could solve the problem of youth violence in America overnight, truth be told, but “we” simply lack the interest and political will to accomplish this objective. Like the youth we blame for street violence, many of us have become lazy, selfish, and apathetic. As it relates to solutions, all fathers must stay actively involved in the lives of the children they bring into this world, no excuses. Our educated (elite) African American citizens and citizens from all ethnic groups must come back to or visit the hood for the first time (and then make frequent and extended visits), share some of that intellectual prowess they’ve acquired—the African Americans on the backs of our ancestors and courageous people like W.E.B. Dubois. Our wealthy (or middle class) African Americans who live far from the hood must start to give a damn, and stop acting like the terrible white folk your grandparents warned you about when you were a kid back in the 1950’s and 1960’s. And yes, together, blacks, whites, browns, yellows, reds, we must demand, as did Malcolm, Martin and the Black Panthers, better treatment from the government and, now, corporate America.

We must engage, protest, organize, inspire, work together, produce for ourselves, and believe in the God Spirit inside of us all, that we are worthy of living lives of dignity, class, health, prosperity and wellness—as so are others, particularly our at-risk youth.


Editor: LinckeN@WLAC.edu | West Los Angeles College | 9000 Overland Ave, Culver City CA 90230 | www.wlac.edu
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