If you hear something really bad has happened to me at some point in the future, it probably won't be as a result of white folks, upper middle class black folks, or wealthy or well-to-do anyone else. Nor will it be because I angered the middle class or the dignity rich working class here or around the world, nor anyone else even remotely reasonable and trying to get ahead in this modern world of ours.
If you hear something has happened to me (meaning, say, I was killed or seriously injured, unable to speak), know a couple things:
1. Our silver rights movement achieved at least part of its mandate, to make free enterprise and capitalism work for the poor and the under-served.
2. We succeeded in helping young people to "get rich and do well, legally," while staying in school, out of trouble, and while participating fully in this evolving American experiment called her democracy.
3. We succeeded in making smart sexy again, because we have been making dumb sexy for far too long.
4. And that drug dealers and gang bangers did it.
This weekend I was in Detroit, Michigan, meeting with our partners at New Detroit, school superintendent Robert Bobb, and giving a speech for the University of Michigan Black Business Association, at the Ross Business School, and it is like the tale of two cities, between Detroit and Ann Arbor.
In Detroit, 50 young people were killed over their designer sunglasses.
Separately, a brilliant young lady I met here, 22 years old, told me she has been to funerals for 6 classmate since her graduation in 2006.
Meanwhile, I spent last night amongst some of the brightest, most amazing and inspiring young African-American "bright lights" on the planet, in Ann Arbor at the Ross School — a mere 30 minutes from Detroit.
My dream: I want the kids of Detroit, to be more inclined towards the aspirations, hopes and dreams of the kids at the Ross B School in Ann Arbor, and I want the young adults at Ross B School in Ann Arbor, to do more (say volunteer one hour a month through our HOPE Corps) to give back to the kids of inner city Detroit.
The reality is that nothing is wrong with our children, per se, other than they have mostly horrible role models (our kids have limited their dreams to becoming athletes, rap stars and drug dealers, because they are modeling what "they see." We need to give them something different, to see), and they have been hijacked by what I call "thug culture." And the culture crisis in America is not limited to the plight of just inner-city youth; one could argue that this global economic crisis is as much a crisis of virtues and values, as it is an economic crisis. We are all in this together.
Back when I was coming up, there were 35 kid in my class, and 30 kids wanted to learn, with 5 kids acting like knuckleheads. Today, you have 35 kids in class, and 30 kids are acting like knuckleheads, and 5 kids are afraid to admit they want to learn. This is not a crisis of our kids, per se, but it is certainly a crisis of our culture.
One of my mentors, Quincy Jones, has said "it takes 20 years to change a culture," and over the past 20 years we have made dumb sexy. We have dumbed down and celebrated it. And now, we need to make smart sexy again.
Plain and simple: our communities have been hijacked by thug culture, and I plan on taking our communities back! Soon Operation HOPE, our HOPE Partners and I will be announcing the 5MK (5 MILLION KIDS) inspired Make Smart Sexy Tour through several American inner-cities, and over the next 2 years.
My goal with 5MK and the Make Smart Sexy Tour is nothing short of breaking the back of the high school dropout rate, inspiring celebrities and business leaders to come and profile a new type of success, to return hope in the lives and spirits of our children, and to "make smart sexy again."
How will we all know if we are successful? Well, if we are wildly successful, some years from now, you might hear that I have been mysteriously taken from this world, and if you do, you will know from and by who — drug dealers and thugs.
I can even imagine what they might say to me, before they did what they thought they had to do:
"John, personally man, I am down with what you are saying and doing, and I even want that for my children man, but this is business, and you and your "smart sexy" stuff is just ruining my business. I don't have any drug customers anymore, and all my workers are talking about they can't do this anymore because they are back in school. …Man, you just have to go."
On a serious note, of course I want to live a long life just like everyone else, but I also believe passionately in the words of the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, "if you haven't decided what you are willing to die for, you are not fit to live."
John Hope Bryant