Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Out of the mouth of a teen: Quod erat demonstrandum

DARNELL GARDNER JR. is a lifelong Detroit resident and a junior at Davis Aerospace Technical High School in the Detroit public school system. Any teenager who sounds like a precocious Dr. Edgar Foster, knows how to use words like "ramification," and wants to address pressing social concerns, is worth listening to in my book. Have a listen, as he speaks his piece in "Kilpatrick makes it harder to defend Detroit" (Detroit Free Press, April 6, 2008):
In light of the recent events in Detroit, I feel a responsibility to deliver my take on the state of the city.

I am a lifelong Detroit resident, a student in the Detroit Public Schools, and the child of a tax-paying single parent. I have the right to voice my opinion, and I believe that Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick has an ethical and contractual obligation to listen to it.

These words are not tainted with "bigotry" or a product of some "lynch-mob mentality." My words are drenched in tears -- for my people and my city.

In the past 10 years, I have seen every aspect of Detroit decay. My neighborhood, East English Village, once a diverse, safe and clean gem of the city, has crumbled before my eyes. I have forgotten what it feels like to be at peace. Whether it is gunshots, loud and profane music, or dime bags left on my sidewalk, something reminds me every day of how low this city has fallen.

That reminder crawls into my mind and gives me feelings so strange and powerful that I cannot even describe them. While Kilpatrick touts building up dilapidated neighborhoods and tearing down abandoned homes, I cringe as he fails to preserve what little beauty this city still has left.

I am aware of the Next Detroit Initiative, and I am aware that it began here, in East English Village. But I am also all too aware of how late it was. When people walk down the streets smoking marijuana with no regard to law or authority, you can be sure that it will take untold amounts of time and effort to recover what has been lost.

I used to go to Renaissance High, another fading gem of this city, but last year I transferred to Davis Aerospace Technical High. The difference between the two schools is appalling, even though Davis is considered a top school in Detroit. The children are often out of control, rude and crude. Even worse, they are also devastatingly undereducated. Many cannot even write a readable essay because their grammar is atrocious.

I have even heard teachers say that they could not grade some papers because they were unreadable. In fact, one of my peers asked me to proofread one of his essays, and I nearly began to sob halfway through it.

These kids are the future of this country, this state and, most important, this city. How can anyone expect them to succeed when their English skills are equivalent to those of mine in fourth grade? The students at my school are just as smart as anyone else. Why is it that they have never had the chance to discover it for themselves?

Education is the backbone of any successful community. It matters not how much you repair a place if the people who will inhabit it have no education. They will just turn to various forms of crime and end up destroying everything that was created.

On March 11, I watched every moment of Mayor Kilpatrick's State of the City address, and I am still watching it every day on national and local news -- for all of the wrong reasons. I must say that even though I did not quite enjoy the scripted part of the speech, had that been all the mayor had to say, I could have lived with it. However, when I heard the last five minutes of the speech, frankly, I could not believe my ears. Just when I had thought things could not get any worse, as I should have predicted, Kilpatrick managed to somehow dig Detroit's grave even deeper.

How dare he use the n-word on TV? I do not care who or what called him that, as the highest ranking official in this city and as someone many African Americans, particularly young men, look up to, he cannot just throw out slurs like that in any context.

The mayor is clearly a sharp man; can he not see the ramifications of his actions?

The part of the speech that disenchanted me even more was when he declared that the media and suburbanites are waging a bigoted assault on him. Not only is that statement false, but it is also extremely racist. Yes, many suburbanites and many whites do not like this city, but how can you blame them? Half the people in this city do not like it, and we are black!

As for the media, they are doing their jobs. Kilpatrick got himself into this massive mess; he is completely out of line for attempting to shift the blame onto the people who are telling the citizens of Detroit, the people he works for, about it.

I am one of the many Detroiters who are pleading for Kilpatrick's resignation. He has embarrassed this city long enough, and the longer we have him in the limelight, the harder it gets for the city to "focus" or "get back to business."

Kilpatrick, whether convicted or not, committed an immoral and criminal action and should pay a price.

Someone's philandering is none of my or anyone else's business. However, what Kilpatrick did cost the city $8.4 million and its reputation. When I look at schoolbooks that are so worn that they do not even have covers, teachers who struggle to serve the city's youth and pay their utility bills at the same time, and the endless garbage scattered throughout Belle Isle -- yet another lost gem --I simply cannot excuse that.

Back four or five years ago, I went to a suburban private school. There, I encountered a lot of people who had stereotypical and warped views of this city. Being the opinionated person I am, I defended my home with all that I had.

I was ridiculed, alienated and even called "white" by both black and white students. But I did what many other Detroiters still do on a regular basis: try to uphold the image of our city.

When city leaders disgrace us, they not only further stereotypes about blacks and Detroit, they disparage the work so many of us have done.

Kilpatrick should give us a break and please leave office. If he is forced out, it will only make Detroit look that much worse.
Of related interest:

Nolan Finley, "Shut down Detroit's dropout factories" (The Detroit News, April 6, 2008):
"Bulldozers ought to be rolling across Detroit, leveling public schools that are trapping children in poverty and ignorance.... No other response is adequate to the report that Detroit Public Schools graduates just 25 percent of its students...."
Leonard Pitts, Jr., "It's a shameful thing, Mayor Kilpatrick" (Detroit Free Press, April 8, 2008):
Dear Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick: So it's a black thing? Not a sleaze thing, not a betrayal of the public trust thing, not a breaking the law thing? Just a black thing?

This would seem to be the message of the recent rally thrown for you at a black church in Detroit.... Standing room only; gospel choirs doing that gospel choir thing; posters in red, black and green; chants of "I can make it through the storm!" ... And there you were, with your bold, uncompromising self, standing in the pulpit proclaiming, "I will humbly serve you till the day I die." O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson would be proud.
[Hat tip to S.N.]

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