(Patrick D. Rosso/Boston.com/2012)
On a warm Sunday afternoon, youths from the Boston NAACP walked around Malcolm X Park trying to get their friends and neighbors to register to vote and become members of the group. But while many were out there to share stories with other young people and community members, they instead received lessons from the older generation playing basketball.
“I look at each generation and it’s like they are trying to outdo the older generation,” said Martin White, a 43-year-old Roxbury resident who said many times the younger kids are trying to act tougher and "badder." “That ain’t the way to go. I don’t want to see anyone living the life I lived.”
The crowd of nearly 20 basketball players, who ranged in age from 25-50, shared their stories at the impromptu forum. Although there were no megaphones or banners, the stories told were bold enough to touch nearly everyone in the park that day.
"There are a lot of things that if we had everyone on the same page we could change,” said Reggie Eason, 50, of Roxbury as he took a break from a game of pick-up basketball. “It’s good seeing young people out here. We have to get people talking to each other.”
The high school and college-age youths who eagerly listened in hailed from many of the same neighborhoods and housing developments that the men talked to them about. Many knew each other’s cousins and friends and shared painful stories about their own hardships and triumphs.
“You guys [the NAACP youth] are examples. Even if they [other youth] aren’t talking to you, they are watching you,” said Anthony Perry, a 47-year-old Hyde Park resident. “When you look around at the funerals, you see who’s left. There are still plenty of people left but you have to go out and grab life.”
Michael Curry, the president of the Boston NAACP, was also present Sunday, talking with the basketball players, many of whom were old friends from school or the neighborhood.
“The reality is black men are dying early or going to jail and we need to step up,” said Curry. “We grew up in some grimy situations and at some point we have to do something about it, because tomorrow we could catch a bullet. These kids need somebody to step up.”
Curry continued, reinforcing the importance of the youth learning from the older generation, or as many called them “the old heads”.
“You don’t need to be a college graduate, all you have to do is have a story to tell,” said Curry. “Y’all got to tell your stories. You have to show them what you’ve been through.”
Although the conversation only lasted about 20-minutes, many walked away with a sense of understanding. Although some of the youth members of the Boston NAACP, aren’t new to the streets of Boston, having someone with 40-plus years of experience tell them what that life is like, hit home for many.
“We just want to talk about the issues. There are a ton of issues but somebody has to speak up about them,” said Herb Lozano, 23, a Dorchester resident and youth coordinator for the Boston NAACP. “The people of color are the majority in this city and I think it’s important that the majority voice their opinion.”
Although the Boston NAACP has been active in the city for over a 100-years, the group is trying to revamp itself, bringing in fresh blood and more of the city’s youth.
“We’re really just trying to get more youth involved,” said Janel Cambbell, 17, a Roxbury resident and nominated president of the NAACP’s Youth Council. “We need to get the younger crowd involved so they know where they are and what’s going on. We need to get the kids off the street and guide them.”
With the increase in attention to the youth the Boston NAACP is working to form its first Youth Council, that will help guide initiatives targeted towards youth and provide a younger voice for the organization, all while trying to develop the next generation.
“We want to point them in the right direction,” said Lozano. “They want to go to school, be in their community and be safe and we want to provide them that place.”