Madison police officer Mike Hanson, left, with James Monroe.
6. Saying 'We love you'
Previously in this series:
Exactly one week after 17-year-old Karamee Collins Jr. was shot to death at the intersection of Leland and Balsam Roads on the troubled southwest side, Mayor Dave Cieslewicz convened a group of 30 community leaders in Police Chief Noble Wray's conference room.
He encouraged citizens to "establish, communicate and enforce high standards of personal and group behavior throughout our community."
Police Chief Wray vowed to go after guns and "the no-snitch culture." But the top cop admitted, "I need help. This is more than a law enforcement issue."
Could they be talking about a word rarely spoken in liberal Madison? "Values"?
Paging James Monroe. Just don't - he asks - call him "reverend." Nonetheless, this middle-aged black man is a man of God by avocation and a Madison businessman by day. He is a religious man who disdains the denominational approach that can divide religionists. That does not mean that he is non-judgmental. To remove the double negative, he is as judgmental as an Old Testament Jeremiah.
"I don't believe we need God in the schools ... (but) we need to teach what is morally sound and morally right," he tells me at the Lussier Teen Center just north of Madison Memorial High School.
Monroe takes his ministry to the Dane County juvenile detention center. "I ask a simple question: 'what is wrong with your life?'"
Monroe has assembled a cadre of 20 to 25 men, good and true, who are going door-to-door in Madison's troubled neighborhoods. They got up to speed on the social services offered by the city and county. But mostly, they are relying on their own school of life's lessons as adult men to serve as positive role models. Someone to call when the chips are down, when temptation beckons, when you just need an ear.
"We are saying 'We love you. We care.'"
Monroe's men do not carry a low profile. Just the opposite: the entire neighborhood will know they're coming and will know they're in their midst. Their first march, on July 25, they chanted as they marched "Who cares? We Care! Who cares? The city cares! Who cares? The county cares!"
"We were applauded. We had people coming out of their houses," Monroe marvels. In their first march, the men signed up six kids who "know something is wrong with their lives."
Monroe is echoing Bill Cosby. The comedian and social commentator has been conducting "Call Out sessions," in communities across America, including two years ago in Milwaukee.
Blaming white people can be a way for some black people to feel better about themselves, but it doesn't pay the electric bills. There are more doors of opportunity open for black people today than ever before in the history of America.
That is what he wrote in a 2007 book he co-authored with Harvard psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint, called Come On People, on the Path from Victims to Victors.
Certain people tell us that we are picking on the poor. Many of those who accuse us are scholars and intellectuals, upset that we are not blaming everything on white people as they do. Well, blaming only the system keeps certain black people in the limelight, but it also keeps the black poor wallowing in victimhood.
When the boys get suspended or expelled - admit it, parents - there is usually a good reason. The problem is that not all of us will admit it. Our boy gets sent home and what do we do? We get angry at the teacher or the principal or the school board. We call a parasite lawyer like those we see on T.V. "No, Mrs. Jones, it's not their fault! How dare they punish little Jovon! Let's sue!"
Last October, The Atlantic magazine featured Bill Cosby's crusade, which features community "call outs" challenging communities to get their act together.
As Cosby sees it, the antidote to racism is not rallies, protests, or pleas, but strong families and communities. Instead of focusing on some abstract notion of equality, he argues, blacks need to cleanse their culture, embrace personal responsibility, and reclaim the traditions that fortified them in the past.
... The crisis of absentee fathers, the rise of black-on-black crime, and the spread of hip-hop all led Cosby to believe that, after the achievements of the 1960s, the black community was committing cultural suicide.
Cultural suicide? That's pretty, well, judgmental.
Ald. Pham-Remmele is on the same page. During the debate over the curfew, the Dane County Youth Commission encouraged teens to fight back. Pham-Remmele recalls:
Anyone privileged to see testimonies sloppily written by these teens demanding their 'freedom' and 'civil rights', declaring that, "No cop should have any business to stop and ask me how old I am" can see the obvious needs for these youth to spend more time doing homework instead.
For parents of teenagers to declare they, "feel comfortable with our kids staying out at all hours" is not only stupid but irresponsible. ... It has nothing to do with color whatsoever.
James Monroe agrees. "It's not black kids. It's poor kids." Monroe, who is 55, recounts that he grew up "in a time and era when the white man was blamed for everything."
But that won't wash anymore.
"No one ever told me to turn my hat around. No one educated me on how to present myself," Monroe says.
Even so, he acknowledges a better upbringing than some. His mother was something of an entrepreneur, operating a succession of small stores.
"I came from a family that knew the difference between being broke and being poor. You can always change being broke."
That's the flip side of James Monroe's tough-love ministry. Here's the love: "We want to help" - now here's the tough -- "but we also want to send the message that we are tired of what's been going on. You are the children, we are the adults. We're not going to sit around and watch you shoot each other."
Monroe's theory of teenage gangs is that out of 20 gang members, maybe five are truly hard cases. The rest are "sheep in wolves' clothing. If they know they have someone to back them up, I think they'll have the courage to say they don't want to be doing this anymore."
Volunteers assemble at Elver Park at 11:30 Saturday mornings. More walks are scheduled on August 8, 15, 22, culminating Saturday, August 29, at an all-Southwest neighborhoods community picnic and sports contest at Elver Park.
Next up: Treating yourself poorly