A family affair: gang/drug workshop

The answer to the problem of gangs, crime and drugs lies in the African-American community’s reclaiming its traditional family structure. That’s the message the Rev. Clarence L. James, a nationally acclaimed speaker, will bring to Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church on July 19.

The author of several books about the state of black families and youth—including, most recently, Lost Generation? Or Left Generation? (Youth Leadership Development Programs, 2004)—believes that a return to the traditional African family structure is key to reversing the damage done since the 1960s and ‘70s, which has resulted in a plague of gangs and drugs.

“The black family was not destroyed in slavery,” James told Xpress. “It was surrendered in freedom.”

And while political conservatives have made “family values” a buzzword, said James, they have also “acted as if black people had no family values.”

In fact, he continued, African-American family traditions, which used to be among the strongest in the world, have been compromised in modern American society. Fixing that, he said, will require the work of several generations of the black community.

“Probably the primary responsibility lies with the elders … the grandparents and great-grandparents,” said James—and he includes himself in that group. At 60, he considers himself part of the “last generation raised in the tradition of black families.”

The Rev. John Grant of Mt. Zion, who says he hopes for a cross-generational attendance at the workshop, spoke to the need for serious soul-searching concerning gangs and crime in Asheville.

“There are some people who think the gang situation has been blown out of proportion,” he noted. “I don’t feel that way personally. I hear a lot of frustration that we need to do something.”

Although the city has taken some positive steps, Grant says there’s still much work to be done, and he hopes James’ workshop will be an important next step.

“What we hope to come out of this is some suggestions and solutions in dealing with drugs, gangs and crime,” he said. “We don’t see Rev. James as any kind of savior; we see him as a valuable resource person.”

Having listened to James’ sermons and read his books, Grant says he shares his colleague’s view that the African-American family needs to be restored.

“I would like to see all ages from all aspects of life [at the workshop],” noted Grant. “We want all ages from throughout the community.”

The communitywide rally and workshop focusing on solutions for gangs, drugs and crime will be held Saturday, July 19, at Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, 47 Eagle St. in downtown Asheville, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. An 8:30 a.m. breakfast will kick off the event, which will be followed by a lunch and Q-and-A session.

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