And To What Purpose?

The life of Troy Davis is over. People took to the streets in vast numbers to protest his execution to no avail. I knew the man’s story before I even knew his name. I’ve heard it so many times I can repeat it by rote. First and foremost, I knew he was a high school drop out. How did I know this? Because every criminal I’ve ever met was a high school drop out. Because the majority of black males are high school drop outs. Let me say that again–the majority of black males–52%–are high school drop outs. 

I don’t understand how we can take to the streets in vast numbers to protest over the life of one man while leaving countless others to die. Let me be clear: When we allow a sizable percentage of our population to go uneducated we have metaphorically sentenced them to Death Row. Not only that, many of them will  go on to victimize others. And make no mistake about it, a very high percentage of high school drop outs become criminals. More than anything on earth I wish I possessed a magic wand that would prevent young people from dropping out of school. Unfortunately, I don’t possess that super power. Fortunately, rectifying this doesn’t require magic, it just takes a lot of hard work.

In a few years nobody will remember Troy Davis’s name. Right now he’s the flavor of the moment, then we go on to the next Big Deal. It’s the nature of the beast, we are so inundated with information these days nothing stays on our mind for very long. Some have stated that they’ll work to change the justice system. That’s all well and good, but to my mind that’s addressing the wrong end of the horse. More than anything it is crucial that we work to halt the tide that funnels these young people into the justice system in the first place. I can take you to any elementary school in America and show you the kids at risk of dropping out (or being pushed out). I read somewhere that black boys are lost at about the third grade. (Frankly white boys aren’t doing that great either, but that’s for another day.) If we exerted even half the energy that’s been devoted to saving this one man’s life to saving our young people from the living death of being a high school drop out there would be no fodder for an unfair justice system.

This is a call to address something that is real and doable–our education system. Systemic change is needed all across this country. Whether you have children or not you need to be talking to the schools about what they’re doing about the drop out issue. Don’t let them palm you off with a bunch of jargon and nonsense, hold them accountable for the drop out rate. Become a tutor or a mentor, not of high schoolers, by then it’s too late, but of middle school and elementary schoolers. Commit to sticking around long term. How many of you are involved in literacy programs? Look to your churches, we give them billions of dollars each year, what are they doing with that money besides enriching their pastor’s pocket? This is not a case where taking care of your own child is sufficient. Instead of wearing “I Am Troy Davis” t-shirts, I want to see masses of people wearing “I Am NOT Troy Davis” t-shirts while they work diligently to make that a fact in their own communities. That is the only way to give his death a purpose and meaning.