THE LAST WORD: Young African Americans of the '90S Need Heroes

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THE LAST WORD: Young African Americans Of the '90s Need Heroes.

I don't want to hear another horror story about the next generation of African Americans. Television and newspaper pundits, along with school officials and government bureaucrats, have all weighed in on the lethal mix of violence and apathy among young African Americans. I would like to remind these well-meaning commentators that what this generation needs are a few heroes, and that these kids may have a better historical sense of "the good old days" than we care to admit.

As a child of the '60s, I readily admit that this generation of African Americans has reached levels of teen-age crime and violence that I wouldn't have dreamed possible 20 years ago. As a college administrator, however, I am also in a position to witness an army of youth who, like the teen-agers of the '60s, have decided to change the world into which they were born. Armed only with sweat, determination and optimism -- and getting precious little support from the government and the older generation -- these young people are truly the successors of the '60s radicals.

Does history really repeat itself? Take a look at the African-American contingent of the so-called Generation X. This generation has adopted "Afro" hairdos, bell-bottomed slacks, angry music and a defiant distaste for anything that resembles The Establishment.

At first glance, these may seem to be nothing but fashion statements from a rebellious youth unconcerned with politics. But look more closely: African American youth are also returning to the civil rights grass roots. The movement started with people who tried to change the world by changing themselves. But somewhere along the way the movement forgot its grass roots, and that's when it lost a lot of us.

Although the slogans are different, today's students reflect the same attitudes we chanted in the '60s: "Burn, baby, burn;" "If you're not a part of the solution, you're a part of the problem;" and "Don't trust anyone over 30."

"Burn, baby, burn" was the expression of a frustrated generation that felt helpless and betrayed after the deaths of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

Taught that if we worked hard, turned the other cheek and reformed our own communities, we believed that truth, justice and the American way would eventually win out. …