We need to instill in the city's African-American youth the kind of cultural identity that breeds self-respect, respect for elders and a desire to achieve. This cultural consciousness existed in the the black community in the past, and we can develop this awareness in our young people today by making them more aware of their rich heritage--the many accomplishments of African-Americans.
The traditional methods for getting black youth to study their history--and to read more generally--have largely failed. It's time for a new approach.
If we develop an effective approach, our young people will find role models in their history and many of these students will try to emulate these historical figures. For example, if someone learns about Charles Drew, who developed medical uses for blood plasma (and for whom the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Watts is named), that student might decide to try to become a pioneer in medicine.
If students learned enough history to realize that there have already been black trailblazers, they wouldn't assume the prospects for success are hopeless. They would realize that if you have the dexterity to be a violinist or the creativity to be an architect (like Paul Williams, the black architect who designed some of the best homes in Beverly Hills and Hancock Park in the 1930s). Those goals can be realized.
Reading is contagious and when we get students to realize the joys of reading, they'll find inspiration. Reading is fundamental.
It's time we began to try reach young people by creating cultural icons--by turning these historical figures into popular cultural heroes. If we are successful, we can inspire many students to aspire to entrepreneurship. We need a new generation of business owners to end the nightmare of our avenues of broken dreams--the empty lots and abandoned storefronts along streets in Compton and Los Angeles.
There is now an unconventional and promising approach to reaching these goals. We're using buttons featuring the names of great black Americans to instill this cultural identity and--at the same time--create a new kind of popular culture. We are also planning buttons that will feature the likenesses of these heroes.
Some public libraries in South-Central Los Angeles and Compton are using the buttons as incentive awards for reading. For example, when a youth checks out books or applies for a library card, he or she can obtain a button featuring a historical figure. There are 40 different buttons in all. Among those featured are the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, inventor George Washington Carver, poet Langston Hughes, scholar-activist W. E. B. DuBois, emancipator Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
We're asking businesses and individuals to purchase buttons from Vanguardian Small Business Concepts. Vanguardian is donating purchased buttons to libraries in the name of donors. Eventually, we hope to get young people involved in business through a junior achievement-like program in which students will have additional buttons manufactured and take part in the marketing and selling of buttons and other products.
Many of our young people have entrepreneurial ideas, but no one listens and encourages them to develop business concepts or business experience. This program is a start.