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Hustlers Die Young

Sankofa: Looking Back to Move Forward


During the 20 years since the riots of the 1960s, it appears that little progress has been made in the African American community. Crime is at an all-time high. Unemployment is even higher and drugs are tearing apart the soul of most neighborhoods. All of these are having an adverse effect on or black youth.  

In one of my many community lectures, I asked a group of high school students what their plans were for the future. For those who had given it some thought, the typical response was that they wanted to become a professional athlete or entertainer. But there were a couple of students who had different aspirations…they wanted to be hustlers.

This response disturbed me because the likelihood that an aspiring youngster will become a professional athlete or entertainer is slim, but attainable. The key to success is hard work. But a young person does not need a key to become a hustler. All he needs to know is how to pick a lock. Achieving this life goal requires a parasitic mentality.

Those who choose to become hustlers begin their careers by either selling drugs or committing robberies. Both roads lead to quick money, fast living and …a dead end street. Unfortunately, there are hundreds of black youth who choose to take this route.

on any given day, you can see these teenagers driving Mercedes’ or BMW’s wearing designer sweat suits and eyeglasses and carrying handbags which cost more than most folks pay for rent. Where are the parents of these children and why don’t they care.

Unfortunately, many of these teenagers make more money in a month than their parents make in a year. I am bothered by the fact that most of these young people have very little regard for their lives and even less for the lives of other. Most are out of touch with anything outside of their immediate environment, and see only those things which bring immediate gratification.

It’s a shame to see teenagers walking around with hundreds of dollars worth of gold jewelry around their necks, never realizing that most of that gold comes from South Africa. They don’t care to know that the South African government exports $50 million a day in gold while black miners die at the rate of 33 a day. They don’t realize that they are helping to enslave their own brothers.

Many of these teens are unaware that the dangerous period in the life of a black male is between the ages of 13 and 25. This is the time when many youth become disillusioned with school, get involved with drugs, and turn to a life of crime. All these activities contribute to the development of a permanent underclass with little or no hope for improvement for themselves or their future families.

There are very few drug pushers or thieves. Most die early in life. Those who do survive often wish they were dead. They live out their lives in the prisons and flop houses of this nation. It is not a pretty picture.

In most instances, people who take a wrong turn in life do so because they lack guidance and exposure. People who become successful, set their sights on a particular goal early in life and continually strive toward it. Those who are unsuccessful habits early in life.

It is a simple case of cause and effect. We all get out of life what we put into it. The habits we cultivate in our youth determine how we will live our adult lives. Just ask the person who sits behind a desk or the one who sits behind bars.

There are no simple solutions to this position. It is a complex situation which affects us all Therefore, we are all required to be actively involved in seeking solutions. Our youth are our future. We can’t afford to turn our backs on them.

Everyone---parents, educators, businessmen and others---must become involved and do whatever they can to influence and improve the life of at least one youth. All of our lives depend upon this.


Throughout the last decade, I have received hundreds of letters from brothers and sisters in the prison system. The majority of these letters are from persons under 35 who are doing time for various drug-related offenses.

Many of the letters are from hustlers who never dreamed that they would end up in prison. Few if any ever thought about the death and destruction that they brought to their families and their community. Now, locked behind bars, many are beginning to come to their senses and realize how their choices affected their lives and the lives of others.

Most are now reading regularly for the first time in their lives. Their minds are being transformed while their bodies are imprisoned. Many have read my books and have expressed thanks for the knowledge and information the books exposed them to. They write requesting additional books, material and information.

Like Malcolm X, during his imprisonment, many inmates are undergoing profound changes of consciousness. Imprisonment can be a cathartic experience for those who are ready to be transformed. If only they could have begun this change of consciousness before they became hustlers and committed crimes which resulted in them being locked away in the prime of their lives.

If they are lucky, many persons who are incarcerated will return to their communities. But because of a prior conviction many will not be able to vote or have many opportunities for legitimate economic advancement. What can be done to help them? What can be done to prevent young sisters and brothers from following in their footsteps?

If white youth were locked up at rates similar to those of African American youth, Congress would declare a national emergency. Parents, teachers, ministers, politicians and business leaders would demand solutions to this tragic and unacceptable loss of life. But too many voices are quiet. Is it because the lives being destroyed belong black and brown youth? Whatever the reason, it is a sad commentary of America’s values.

You don’t have to wait for politicians to initiate change. You can start by developing relationships with youth in your community and creating alternatives to life in the streets. You can begin by listening to them, talking to them and teaching them that they are loved and that there is a place for them in their community.

Sankofa, Looking Back, Move Forward, South Africa, hustlers


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