Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A call for respect

While it seems there are more outreach, activity and coalition organizations for youth these days than the number of young people attending them, the violence on our streets continues. What will it take to turn them from the dead-end, false bravado of gang activity, to believing in their capacity to gain status through ‘good’ rather than through intimidation?

Though no consensus exists on the definition of a gang, there is a common theme. A gang requires community recognition of a distinct group of adolescents and young adults, whose involvement in illegal activities results in a consistent negative response from law enforcement and neighborhood residents. Not exactly something of which to be proud.
Ironically, however, every conversation with a current or past gang member, school authority or law enforcement regarding local gangs eventually evokes the term: respect.
Derived from the Latin root meaning, ‘to look back,’ or ‘to look again,’ the term has to do with ‘regard, reverence, honor, esteem, or veneration.’
We’ve gone a long way from Aretha Franklin’s “R-e-s-p-e-c-t...” when the kids are asking for ‘respect’ at the end of an eight inch blade. Youth can be loyal to a fault to one another; the question is why are they loyal to those whose swagger is based on pseudo-machismo attitude rather than on the real heroes who have effectively overcome the odds and chosen to live a life crime free?
Between trials and stabbings along the Central Coast, one would be tempted to believe that every teen…especially every Latino teen, is a member of some gang. Nothing could be further from the truth.
First, there aren’t that many young people in Santa Barbara, as validated by continued school mergers and closings. And while the number of youth who have chosen to participate in criminal behavior may receive a disproportionate amount of press, they are a small group overall.
I’d like to bring that small number down to ‘zero,’ for their sake and for ours. As a community, we can take the word ‘respect’ and apply it where it belongs—to those youth who manage to grow up in homes riddled with addiction, poverty and parents who don’t give a damn, but still make a different choice and decision for themselves. Or those kids who lack a sense of belonging for one reason or another, and though not seen as ‘cool,’ chose to join a club or legitimate activity in order to stay out of trouble. Or those ‘fencewalkers’ who live in neighborhoods in the heart of gang activity and blend in, but stay clear of participating in the truly stupid activities that lead to jail.
Those are the kids I want to focus on- the winners, not the little copy cat tough guys who happen to have a knife in their hand. I want our kids to wake up every day with a reason to go to school, or maybe head to a job with an expectation that their hard work will pay off. Eastside, Westside, whatever side; it’s our town, too. We adults have an obligation to have steps in place to get kids out of gangs, and to keep them from looking for ‘respect’ in all the wrong places. But the kids have responsibility too.
Here’s the message I’d like to send: that you gain ‘respect’ in our community for who you are, not for how you look. You earn respect through good deeds, not through intimidation. You get rewarded in school for trying, not for mouthing off. You gain your girlfriend’s love through admiration, not through ownership. You defy rotten parents through your own personal success, and you appreciate hard-working parents through reaching the dreams they hold for you. You ‘make a life’ first by earning money, not by getting pregnant.
You find greater success and higher income with each year of education, not through cutting people up, stealing stuff or selling weed to other losers. In fact, you earn five times the salary with a high school diploma than as a drop-out, you earn ten times the salary with a college degree, and fifteen times the salary with an advanced degree. You do the math.
Here’s one more ‘inside’ piece of information from adult land for the kids who are flirting with or feeling ‘forced’ into a gang. No one, but no one who can truly help you in life has any ‘respect’ for your illegal and intimidating behavior. You will get caught. You will go to juvie where you can learn to be an even bigger punk, or decide to get on with your road to a better future.
I think I can speak for most of my readers when I make this commitment to you: we truly respect who you are. We may not, however, ‘respect’ your choice of behavior if it harms someone else or reflects poorly on our community. For a new beginning, and a new definition of respect, start by calling this number: 845-4638.

Loretta Redd’s column appears every Tuesday in the Daily Sound. E-mail her at loretta@thedailysound.com


I'm convinced said...

Redd has definitely turned around all those gang members who read the Daily Sound!

I am sure she will be down with the homies at Pennywise market any day now.

P Hanks said...

Good piece. We look forward to reading more from you, L Redd.

Anonymous said...

too bad you can change an entire culture, based on one article.
the fact that the parents who should be reading this, probably cant even speak english does not help either.
deportation of the illegals and their little anchors is the only answer.