By Mikel Kwaku Oshi Holt
The Messmer Catholic School family buried one of its youth members Friday, the victim of a bad decision by a 17-year-old who decided to speed home after a basketball game.
Actually, two members of the Milwaukee family died in that car accident.
They were among a dozen Black children who have died under similar circumstances this summer.
Half of them were joy riding in stolen cars, a seemingly new fad that has stunned Milwaukee both in its frequency and fatal consequences.
Those “car-lamities” represent an overlapping phenomena that undergirds a culture those in my generation can’t understand, or adapt to: a preoccupation with speed, and other reckless nonsensical behavior by a generation with advantages in technology and information we could only visualize while watching Star Trek (the original series with William Shatner, the guy who appears on the Hupy and Abraham commercials, although he was not as fat or old as he is today).
Speed, it seems, is a symptom as well as a cultural nuance. It is a centerpiece in a jigsaw puzzle, a key to a door of events that frequently ends in tragedy.
Speed seems to be a preoccupation of our youth today, and we’re still trying to figure out why.
It seems a week doesn’t go by without news of a young Black driver—with, or without a license—engaged in an accident as a result of speeding. More often than not, it’s the innocent passenger who ends up in the morgue.
The driver of the vehicle that killed Demetrius Batchelor Jr. and Latrey L. Hale two weeks ago was reportedly driving 80 miles an hour! Speed truly kills.
By the way, the driver, Donte Barnes, was charged with negligent homicide and could end up spending much of his adult life in prison because of a lapse in judgment. That’s another tragedy.
From everything I’ve heard, Donte is a good kid, a good student and believes in God (a carry over from our generation).
Two of the kids in the car with him were relatives, so I assume he didn’t mean to cause injury, much less death.
And now—regardless of what happens to him in court—he will have to live the rest of his life with the memory of how a split second decision changed the lives of four families.
What possessed Barnes to risk not only his life, but also his friends? Obviously, he didn’t have anywhere to get to in such a hurry. Was it the thrill of danger? Peer pressure? A youthful—and illogical—belief in immortality?
Or was it something inherent within a subculture we older intransigents simply can’t relate to?
This is a generation brought up on ever-faster computers, speed dialing and “fast” food. They are growing up quicker than my generation—12-year-old girls look, and act, like they are 20, and boys are getting them pregnant before they learn how to walk in high heels, get their first “tramp stamp” or their first weave.
Ask the average person over 50 their general feelings about today’s Black youth and they’ll probably roll their eyes and shake their heads before making a few generalizations about their choice of music, their disrespect and the “the world owes me something” mentality.
Unless you interrupt them by shoving a piece of bar-b-que in their mouths, they will go on to say today’s youth are not taking advantage of the civil rights battles we won, and they are overly reckless when driving, including speeding.
But are those attributes of a subculture, something in the food and water (lead)?
Before you use an “absolute” to generalize about today’s Black youth, note that most are on the right path, they possess the mores and values God entrusted us to instill in them.
In fact, just because they might listen to Snoop Doggy Dud, or wear their pants below their waistlines, don’t assume they won’t eventually come around.
As Teju Ologboni is fond of saying, while we criticize today’s youth for wearing their pants down around their thighs, we wore “Sansabelts,” pulled up around our throats (partly to expose our stuff, if you get my drift).
Our generation’s music introduced sexual promiscuity and spoken word artists like the Last Poets and Gil Scott Heron who rhymed of “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” much to the chagrin of older civil rights activists who preached nonviolence, passive resistance and integration as the cure-all for American apartheid.
We, however, spoke of Black Pride and Africentric lifestyles. We morphed from being Negroes to African Americans, even as the elders thought us strange.
Nonetheless, my generation that spoke of pride in our African heritage called our hairstyles Afros and established a link to the diaspora through African dress and the evolution of Kwanzaa.
And don’t get hung up on last month’s civil disturbance that the White media called a riot three weeks ago. I remember a hot day in July 1967 when my generation threw a few bottles and firebombs.
Yeah, today’s new generation is different, but that’s not necessarily bad. Except for the speeding.
And that’s a phenomenon that transcends the criminally inclined as well as the good teenagers as well.
Including my honor student grandson who I’ve discovered has a lead foot.
He likes to sip on Starbucks Frappuccinos, listen to hip hop and push the envelop when driving, a bad habit I try to break both through lectures and occasionally a pop upside his head.
The next time we hit the road, I’ll tell him about the burial of two boys his age. And how and why they died so early in life’s journey. Hopefully that message will penetrate to his core and he’ll realize that for those teenagers, the only place speeding got them to quicker was an early grave.