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The Unlearned Lesson from Ferguson, Missouri

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

There was a remembrance march held in Ferguson, Missouri that was supposed to be peaceful in nature. It started as such but ended differently.

I must first ask, why was there a remembrance march for the one year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown? Was the intention to mark how the community in Ferguson has turned the corner and made improvements to address the real issues underlying the problems in the community?


I have no time to play a politically correct game but will ask, why was there a protest march to remember a young black man who assaulted a store owner, robbed a store, and assaulted a police officer and attempted to take away his weapon? I am quite sure asking that question will draw the ire of a certain group of people more interested in being victims than resolving the issue at hand. After all, there was a quote from Booker T. Washington that aptly describes these present day purveyors of dependency, not self-reliance. Here are Washington’s words, “There is another class of coloured people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. Having learned that they are able to make a living out of their troubles, they have grown into the settled habit of advertising their wrongs — partly because they want sympathy and partly because it pays. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs.”

What was the purpose of marching with upside down American flags, a symbol of distress?

Actually, that was a somewhat appropriate measure because America is in distress when it comes to the state of our inner cities and urban environments. The unlearned lesson of Ferguson, Missouri is not about protest marches remembering the tragedy of Michael Brown, it should have been about the restoration of three very important aspects of the black community that are in dire need.

First, in the year that has passed since the original Ferguson incident, what has happened with the growth of minority owned, small businesses in the community? One of the key aspects of urban economic restoration has to do with entrepreneurial spirit and growth. The one year protest should have brought this issue to light and sought out policy solutions, such as former Rep. Jack Kemp’s urban economic empowerment zones. How do we reinvigorate Ferguson with the capital necessary to rebuild businesses that the local population can see as a matter of pride? Sadly, when nightfall came, the violence came, too, and there was more looting of businesses in Ferguson. Consider the abysmal black teenager unemployment rate and you will realize why these young people are busy shooting each other, disrespecting the rule of law and law enforcement officers, and destroying businesses – where they should be working.


Second, if you want to have economic revitalization in the inner city, then we need to have better education opportunities. So where were the placards and signs asking for better schools, school choice, charter schools, and opportunities that come only by way of education? Not every kid needs to go onto college, but every kid needs to have a viable skill that enables them to be contributing and productive members of society. These skills need to be focused on the local economic and business needs and ensure the next generation of workers are developed. This does not mean just throwing out a $15 minimum wage panacea which relegates those to believe that frying French fries in a fast food restaurant is a career endeavor. That is the insidious political band aid over a sucking chest wound approach. Why is there not a discussion about skills development and tradesmanship?

In the year since the death of Michael Brown, how many jobs skills development centers have opened in Ferguson? Again, perhaps if the young folks there had to wake up early and be off to a job or a workforce development center they would not have had a desire to be out shooting at each other. Perhaps 18-year old friend of Michael Brown, Tyrone Harris Jr., would not be sitting in a hospital recovering from gunshot wounds resulting from his firing upon law enforcement officers with a stolen handgun.

And that brings me to the third unlearned lesson from Ferguson – what happened to black Dads? I grew up in the inner city of Atlanta and my dad, Herman “Buck” West Sr., raised his first son, Herman West Jr., to seek out service to our nation as a Marine infantryman, following the example set by Dad, who served as a Soldier in World War II, my older brother served in Vietnam. Upon return, he became an Atlanta police officer – one who inculcated into me the lesson of respect and regard for authority. There are calls for a “day of disobedience” in Ferguson, and how many dads are supporting this? Fifty years ago the two parent black household was near 77%, today it is at 25%. Men are needed to raise young men and teach them the lessons of honor, character, and respect. Not saying that a single mom cannot do so, but the odds weigh heavily against.


Booker T. Washington had a three point agenda for the success of the black community under the horrific specter of segregation, Jim Crow, and lynchings – all Democrat policies of the day. He focused on education, entrepreneurship, and self-reliance to enable success for the blacks as individuals and the community as a whole. The policies supporting that agenda then are needed now more than ever.

The unlearned lessons from Ferguson, Missouri must continue to be addressed and elevated until resolved. I look forward to the day when the black community is celebrating the opening of more businesses, the reduction of unemployment, the creation of better inner city schools, the end of black on black murder and violent crime, and the restoration of the black family. Those pursuits are worthy of remembering, not every year, but every day. They represent a nobler endeavor, worthy of the exertions and energy of the black community…and the legacy passed on to subsequent generations.


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