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Opportunity and Hope After Trayvon Martin

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Last year I was privileged to be the commencement speaker at graduation ceremony of the College of Arts Sciences at the University of San Francisco. Among those things I said to the newly minted graduates, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I reminded them that "'Goodness' rarely rides in on the wheels of inevitably. It takes caring, concerned, committed people fighting evil and injustice to 'jump start' the rolling of the wheels of justice." I then continued to say:

I commend to you the wisdom of St. Augustine of Hippo, who said that "Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are 'Anger' and 'Courage;' anger at the ways things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.'"

We are all trustees for our children 'Anger' and 'Hope.' Our fiduciary duty requires us to protect and safeguard our children.

In remembrance of St. Augustine, then, I ask that you join me in encouraging the eternal longevity of 'Anger' and 'Hope.'

In a blog last week about Trayvon Martin I wrote, "Sometimes an event occurs that speaks so simply, clearly, powerfully and eloquently of what it means to be a human being living in a democratic society. So it is with Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla." In that same blog I discussed gun violence in the United States and the sobering statistics about he number of African-American young men involved in criminal incidents with the police, their arrest and stats on the high percentage of young African-American men incarcerated today in either state or federal prisons.

Since this original blog and a subsequent one about the Trayvon Martin case and the role of
President Obama, the media frenzy has continued about "facts" of the case. Additionally, there have been various proposals as to what should be done by the U.S. Justice Department, the White House or Congress in response to the incident.

Lost or obscured in all of the media coverage and discussion about the case are concrete proposals or citation of community endeavors in different parts of the country that might serve as template to address many of the issues emblematic or underlying the Trayvon Martin case, the Sanford, Fla. community, and its police department. One such endeavor deserving of our attention is the Omega Boys Club in San Francisco, Calif.

The Omega Boys Club was founded 25 years ago by Dr. Joseph Marshall and Jack Jacqua. They recall being moved by the drugs, gangs, the turf and the funerals among young people they were witnessing almost on a daily basis on the streets of San Francisco. Dr. Marshall specifically remembers when:

He was a public school teacher back then and the violence had spilled over into my own classroom. I remember one young man in particular who was killed in a turf war between two neighborhoods. He was in my math class one day and dead the next.

He wasn't the only one I got horror stories about. I only had the kids a few hours a day. The streets had them the rest. I needed more time with them.

Dr. Marshall subsequently wrote a bestselling book about his experiences, Street Soldier: One Man's Struggle to Save a Generation, about the founding of the Omega Boys Club. More importantly, at the Omega Boys Club he has created a community based program in San Francisco called "Alive & Free" a.k.a. "Stop the Violence in Our Communities."

What does the Omega Boys Club have to do with the Trayvon Martin case in Sanford, Fla.? It is because Sanford, Fla. and the killing of Trayvon Martin reflect many of those controversial issues related to the attitude that white America and police or "para police" authorities have toward young black men in numerous communities throughout the United States. The high statistical evidence of young black men involved in one or more confrontations with police or community-watch private citizens regarding one or more alleged incidents of criminal conduct by black men provide a conditioning "feedback." This feedback reinforces the predisposed stereotype in the media and among many white political leaders about the "predisposition" of young African-American men toward criminal conduct in their respective communities.

The Omega Boys Club deals with the reality of the experience of SOME African-American young men who are or have engaged in criminal behavior in their response to the 24/7 presence of illegal drugs and violence committed by youth gangs in San Francisco and neighboring communities. Omega offers a choice of an alternative way of behavior: Non-violent conflict resolution as a necessary condition precedent to young black men, with or without a hoodie, to remain "Alive & Free."

The media and talk show attention to the Trayvon Martin case can overshadow or obscure positive stories of successes and community achievements like the Omega Boys Club, in spite of the above referenced white America's pre-disposition to regard many African-American 17 year-old boys like Trayvon as "dangerous" or a threat to an otherwise peaceful community.

Our reference to the local success of Dr. Marshall in San Francisco is not intended to suggest directly or indirectly that Trayvon Martin was involved in a gang related or drug behavior. The reference is solely to bring attention to the successes of the Omega Boys Club as an exemplar of hope and opportunity that Sanford and other communities might study as they deal with the reality of how many people and public officials in white communities throughout our country have developed a conditioned response or reaction to young black men on their public streets or in public places at night in their respective communities.

We believe Sanford, Fla. can learn a lot from Dr. Joseph Marshall's 25 years of work at the Omega Boys Club. We who live and work in communities near San Francisco should feel justifiably proud of his work. We also have representatives in Congress like Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Lee, Congresspersons with a substantial and significant voice in our nation. They may want to bring the successes of the Omega Boys Club to the attention of the police department in Sanford, Fla.

In partial acknowledgment of his work, Dr. Marshall has been a recipient of the a "Genius Award" from the MacArthur Foundation, "Use Your Life Award" from Oprah Winfrey's Angel Network, designated an Ashoka Fellow, recipient of the "Leadership Award" from the Children's Defense Fund and the "Congressional Freedom Works" Award, among many others citations for his pioneering work.

In addition to our congressional representatives, maybe one or more of the leaders of the protest demonstrations around the country or in Sanford, Fla. should also pause and take a "time out" and look at the Omega Boys Club as a potential template of success to minimize the possibilities of a repeat occurrence of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. or elsewhere.

St Augustine's description of the two daughters of "Hope," "Anger" and "Courage," quoted in my commencement address at the University of San Francisco and Dr. Marshall and Jack Jacqua's Omega Boys Club, provide to Sanford, Fla. what can occur after anger and community and national outrage has subsided: Courage to see that "things do not remain the way they are." And a beacon light of "hope" exemplified by Dr. Marshall and the Omega Boys Club.