"America's Greatest Problem: Not Crime, Racism or Bad Schools -- It's Illegitimacy," reads Chapter 5 from my book, "The Ten Things You Can't Say in America." Absentee, non-involved fathers are the primary reason behind recent Department of Justice statistics showing that 32 percent of young blacks possess criminal records, versus 7 percent of their white counterparts.
Dominic Fowler, a 30-year-old black man, and a self-described member of the "hip-hop generation," recently sent me an essay. He entitled his wake-up call "All of My Friends Are Dying":
"Every family memory I have begins at the end of fifth grade, when my parents were on the road to divorce. According to my older brother and other members of the family, we lived a nice, middle-class life when I was a little guy. I have no pictures in my head of this time. After my parents got divorced, I do remember moving ... into the heart of a low-income neighborhood with heavy gang activity.
"It was here that I learned that welfare is as common as working. It was here that I learned all plans, goals, victories, defeats -- any emotion you possess -- could and should be celebrated or deadened with alcohol. It was here that I learned that absolutely nothing was expected of me, that mediocrity in the tired form of just trying to make it in the white man's world was all that was required. ... Am I telling you that no hard-working people existed in my neighborhood? Absolutely not! But we were where we were, and 'positivity' was not plentiful.
"You see, my friends are dying. Some are dead now -- literally. Most are on the death path. Out of 10 ... one is dead, nine are alcoholics, five are regular drug users, five are unemployed, none have college degrees and everyone has fly-ass clothes. I have no college degree either. ... When I was in high school, I knew I was going to rhyme.
"I remember my counselor telling me that I had enough credits to drop math and English in 12th grade and just take electives. He strongly advised against it, but it was an option. An option? My mother was too busy raising four kids and climbing back from her own post-divorce alcoholic free-fall to push college education. And, if she wasn't pushing, why would I? I was gonna make records, remember?
"I guess all I'm asking for is better blueprints. A better set of tools to help these young people navigate through the adult world. Of the 10 friends I mentioned before, three were raised by their grandparents, five come from divorced homes (all stayed with the mom), and two had some extra shit happen. In my old age, I'm beginning to think there is a connection here.
"I'm guilty as well. Putting the necessary energy into my future at age 30 is not something I think I deserve a cookie for. I should have been doing it a long time ago. The quality of life I'm seeking is completely up to me, and to be quite honest, I'm not worried all that much. I'll be just fine. There is no amount of racism, sexism, classicism, or mad-ism that can keep me from living how I want to live.
"But I see kids today runnin' around thinking that life can and will be a Jay-Z video simply because they are talented. There is nobody saying, 'Hey, Jay-Z works very hard. You can't be high and drunk all day and run a successful record label and clothing line. Not to mention constantly putting out bangin' music yourself.' There is no personal discipline being taught. There are no life plans being made. There is nobody telling them that it is much more than smoking weed and drinking and f---ing beautiful women all day. I know it looks really good, but it is make-believe. Don't get it twisted. There is definitely a party -- sometimes. But there is no 24-hour, 365-day spot where 30 to 50 video women chill in bikinis all day, listening to beats and sippin' from the small end of large bottles of Dom. This may sound like common sense to you, but when I'm on the hoop court listening to kids talk about their future, it doesn't seem all that common to me.
"The kids will learn, but will they learn before it hurts their livelihood? Will they learn before their credit is destroyed?
"My friends and I were once 15-year-old boys drinking forties. Can we, who are now grown, say something to the kids who are on the same path? Can we maybe do things differently inside of the home where our kids are watching our coping skills? ... I do not have all of the answers. ... But I do know all of my friends are dying. And all of my friends are someone's children."