Columbia, SC — THE FIRST few minutes of some evening television newscasts are among some of the most damaging you’ll find when it comes to the image of black men.
As the most recent spate of violent crimes is reported and the faces of suspects flash across the screen, more often than not, they’re young black men and teens. A homicide. Another. A robbery. A gruesome assault.
It’s heartbreaking to consider the damage inflicted upon innocent victims and the community, as well as the wasted young lives that result from so many senseless acts. But while it’s true that young black men commit far too many crimes, those criminals make up only a small percentage of all black men.
As I noted in my Thursday column, the crime rate among African-Americans in Richland County — particularly black-on-black crime — is off-the-charts ridiculous (95 percent of all crime committed against black people are by black perpetrators). But it’s equally ridiculous to use the acts of young black men who commit a disproportionate number of crimes to justify profiling and labeling virtually every African-American man and boy a suspect.
If you want a true profile of black men and boys, ditch the easy criminal stereotype that causes many people, whites in particular, to clutch their pocketbooks, cross the street or otherwise avoid black men. Consider instead the fact that the overwhelming majority of African-American men, boys and teens are law-abiding people who desire and pursue success and productive lives just like most people.
They’re contributors across this country — from the White House to the State House to the school house to the church house to City Hall.
Black men, young and old, are key to the fabric of our community. They lead, they govern, they achieve, they entertain, they inspire, they protect, they excel, they educate.
They’re lawyers, doctors, dentists, educators and preachers. They’re students, office workers, grocery clerks, bank tellers, landscapers, construction workers and fast food and restaurant employees.
You encounter them every day on your job, at business meetings, at your child’s school, during an evening out. While many live in obscurity as they go about doing good, others indeed do make the news — and not because they populate the latest crime blotter.
Just consider a few who appeared in The State this year. Most happen to be friends of mine; I’m sure you know some of them:
• Josiah Washington, 13, won $22,000 on teen Jeopardy! and is a volunteer at the Richland Library. He was honored by Richland County Council on Tuesday for his showing on the popular quiz show as well as for speaking on behalf of the library during a budget public hearing.
• Zonnie Harper is a senior at Spring Valley High School and the low brass section leader on the marching band.
• Chris Sullivan, 22, was one of the key organizers of the “10,000 Hoodie March” in Columbia following the George Zimmerman verdict.
Jaime Harrison, 37, was selected chairman of the S.C. Democratic Party in May. He’s a graduate of Yale as well as the Georgetown University law school and is a political strategist. He is former executive director of the U.S. House Democratic Caucus and former director of floor operations and counsel to then-House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn.
• The Rev. Chris Leevy Johnson, who was recently named to Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin’s panel on violent crime and bond reform, is the campus pastor of Brookland Baptist Church, Northeast, and president of Leevy’s Funeral Home. A graduate of the University of North Carolina, he holds dual degrees from the University of South Carolina, including a doctorate in American history with a concentration in African-American religion.
• Terrence Acox, a Richland County Sheriff’s deputy and former basketball standout, was recently named the School Resource Officer of the Year by the S.C. Association of School Resource Officers.
• Pastor Eric Davis shepherds the fast-growing Word of God Church and Ministries. In January, he and his congregation left a spacious Garners Ferry Road location to move into an even more expansive campus on a 21-acre tract along Diamond Lane off Broad River Road. Pastor Davis said the move was God-directed and the church would focus on programs addressing gangs, domestic violence and drug dependency, among other social ills, in an effort to reach the people in that area.
• Xavier McDaniel, my best friend since childhood, will be inducted in the College Basketball Hall of Fame in November. During his days at Wichita State University in Kansas, he became the first player in history to lead the nation in scoring and rebounding in the same year. He would go on to play 12 years in the NBA. By the way, he also has been inducted into both the Kansas and South Carolina sports halls of fame.
• Tyrone Corbin, a friend and former classmate at A.C. Flora High School along with Xavier and me, is the coach of the Utah Jazz. A DePaul University graduate, he played 15 years in the NBA and also is in the S.C. Sports Hall of Fame.
By the way, all of but one of these youths and men are Richland County natives (Mr. Harrison is from Orangeburg), and all fall into the 50 and younger category.
And there are many more.
Have you taken a look at the leadership in Columbia and Richland County lately? The list includes Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and City Councilman Brian DeQuincey Newman; Richland County Council members Kelvin Washington and Torrey Rush; Richland District 1 commissioners Jamie Devine and Aaron Bishop, who also is a pastor; and Fifth Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson.
I’ve only named a few who should inspire a new profile of young black men in our community. They stand on the shoulders of so many older black men — from Jasper Salmond to James Solomon to Milton Kimpson and many others — who continue to contribute to the success of our community.
Reach Mr. Bolton at (803) 771-8631 or firstname.lastname@example.org.