A first-floor meeting room at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library recently was turned into a solutions-seeking unit for several hours on a Sunday afternoon .
Officially, it was the “Black Family Forum,” hosted by the Rev. Norman Redwing and the North Memphis-based Afrikan Village Institute (March 19). The point of reference was to view the African-American community as the “Village” and then address its needs.
A five-member panel of professionals was assembled to address a set of designated topics including whether the village is broken.
Redwing said the need was great, pointing to “the painful and trauma that exists in our communities. We’re looking for solutions. We’re just not here to have a good conversation. We need some solutions. We got to come out of this mess that we are in.
“Even though we did not create the darkness, we are living in it. We got to find a way out. This is a wonderful start.”
Dr. Warren Harper, a licensed psychologist and professional counselor, took the position that the Village was not broken but that is was “fractured, disorganized” and suffering from “anti-unity.”
The solution involved tying into basics that had roots that extended back to Africa and had been passed along to him by elders who never really talked into terms of Africa.
Those basics include truth, justice, righteousness, reciprocity, balance, order and harmony.
The Rev. Althea Greene, a Memphis pastor who chairs the Memphis Shelby County Schools Board, focused on education.
“We spend a lot of time in Memphis blaming this person and that person for what is going on in our city. We want to blame the school system for the problems but most of the crimes that are committed are committed after school hours,” she said.
“How do we stop blaming the church, the education system, the family. I think if we could just stop and identify what’s wrong and start having conversations about what can we do to make all of this right. How do we bridge the education system back with the faith base? How do we bridge it back with the community? …
“It’s going to take a village to turn our situation around.”
Jeffrey T. Higgs, executive director/president of the LeMoyne-Owen College Community Development Corporation, urged an economic perspective.
“Our young people have got to come out of (schools) with technical degrees and career-ready. It’s great to talk about the good old days. … But we have got to prepare these young people. …
“Black men … we have abdicated our responsibilities to the village. We are the protectors and we have not done that. There are too many single mothers, too many young men who do not know who their daddies are. We’ve got to do a better job of protecting the village.”
Lucille Catron, an Orange Mound clothing store owner and a Beale Street entrepreneur, talked about the value of starting from the ground up and meeting the needs of children, for whom hunger is a way of life for many.
“And we can’t be afraid (of our children),” she said. “They want love like anybody else. That’s all they ask for.”
Rose N. Crawford picked up on the love theme.
“Love is the answer,” she said. “Where is the love amongst us Black people?”
Crawford recalled times past when “Black people were together. …We have babies raising babies… What is going to happen there? That baby that’s raising that baby is losing out and then that baby is also is losing out because they are not being taught, they are not being shown love. I am sorry, the churches are not there to show love for the people.”
With the floor opened for comments, a succession of speakers came forth. There were calls for taking personal responsibility, taking advantage of programs developed by grassroots people and a plea for a central vehicle for keeping up with programs and opportunities to address the myriad needs of the village.
There was a call to organize the “village” around one school that could be developed as a model.
Afterward, many exchanged cards and sources of information.