Sunday, March 17, 2002

Second opinion

Words city wants to hear: 'personal responsibility'

        “They are building impoverished armies so they can use them against the establishment to extort money.”

        Whew. I thought I was cynical about the boycott. Compared to Markus Jenkins of Bond Hill, I'm a chapter in Gullible's Travels.

        Mr. Jenkins grew up in the ghetto, overcame dyslexia and succeeded in business through hard work. He has no patience for boycotters, protesters and rioters among his fellow African-Americans. And judging by the nods and “right ons” when he said that, neither did any of the nine others who gathered at the VIP Lounge on Reading Road last Tuesday.

        A few were in their 70s — the generation that fought for civil rights and knew Jim Crow personally. They think comparisons of Cincinnati to Selma are absurd.

        After my column last Sunday quoting Avondale boycott critic Tom Jones, they invited me to listen to a viewpoint that is seldom heard: the other black community — middle class, hard working, proud of what they've done in life.

        The protesters don't speak for them.

        Mary Gaffney of Bond Hill: “My grandson, who is 19, said, "This boycott is not going to help us, Grandma. Where are we doing to get a job?' It will throw them out on the street, right into the drug dealers' hands.”

"It's terrible'

        Hambry Gantt of Springfield Township: “The problem is too many babies having babies. How can we expect young people to respect adults when the adults don't respect themselves?”

        “It's terrible” for the Rev. Damon Lynch III to urge a boycott of the Cincinnati mission by the Rev. Billy Graham, he said. “My church is backing it 100 percent.”

        Anthony Bailey of Avondale: “These kids have no idea when and where to say thank you, but they know how to throw a brick through a window. It doesn't matter if a business is black or white, it's in our neighborhood and we use it. Why destroy it?”

        Mr. Jenkins: “The boycott Web site demeans the black community. It says the vast majority is mired in poverty. The average black person in this community will totally disagree with that.”

        OK, so it's only a handful of opinions. But they say there are many more like them who want to speak up. “The problem is fear,” Mrs. Gaffney said.

        “Let me be blunt,” Mr. Jenkins added. “I weigh 225, and I say what I want to say in earnest. The majority are not going to go out and do that and deal with these fools. They're afraid they will throw something at them or hit them in the head.” The others nodded.

The magic words

        After last Sunday's column, some readers accused me of being a “hatemonger” and said it was “divisive” to criticize the boycott.

        But most responses showed that Cincinnati is desperate to hear a second opinion from the black community. The voices I heard at the VIP Lounge make the missing span of an unfinished bridge between whites and blacks. If the race debate is a one-way street called Blame Whites, the majority won't listen. They need to hear the magic words: “Personal responsibility.”

        Cincinnati wants to hear that it's wrong to run from cops; that education is right, not “white;” and that the destructive cycle of babies having babies must stop.

        Until that is heard, utopian programs, costly agencies and divisive “demands” don't stand a chance.

        Contact Peter Bronson at 768-8301; e-mail Cincinnati.Com keyword: Bronson.


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