Last weekend my wife Angela and our daughters decided to take a trip to Jamaica to visit extended family. Of course when you have aunts, uncles and cousins in Jamaica, you are going to have a nice time because it is less expensive and you really get to see the Island.I hunkered down Washington, D.C., over the weekend but linked up with my former brigade commander from Fort Bragg, retired Col. Denny R. Lewis. We went hiking on the Appalachian Trail. (And yes, unlike former South Carolina Gov. and now-U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, I was on the Appalachian Trail and not in South America. I took pictures to prove it.Denny and I headed out I-66 West on Saturday about 0630 down. We exited I-66 at Virginia Highway 55. About two miles down that road is an entrance to the Appalachian Trail near Linden, Va.We headed north on the trail toward two campsites, Manassas Gap and Dick’s Dome. It was a perfect morning – not too hot and a decent breeze through the trees as we began our ascent. We planned for a four-hour hike, with backpacks full of water, energy bars and the ole trusted peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches.
As we hiked, I remembered the times when as a student at the University of Tennessee we walked in the Great Smoky Mountains. The peace, the serenity, just affords one a time to reflect. For Denny and me, our serene reflections were of our America. On a day when there were those calling for protests all over America, two men, one white from West Virginia and the other black from inner city Atlanta, reflected on “old-school values.”
Denny recalled how hobos during his youth came around and asked for work to get something to eat. They did not feel entitled to get something but wanted to offer a service for sustainment. He reflected upon how his small local community came together to support a family in need or distress. It was the community’s responsibility to help a neighbor in need.I told him that today the government is in the business of promoting distress and dependency for political gain. One need only look at the explosion in food stamp recipients and poverty in America over the past 5 years.Denny thought about the folks who came to pay their respects when his Mom passed away. They brought whatever they thought would soothe and comfort the family. He remembered one fella who brought some fresh “shine,” and he laughed as he remembered how good it tasted.When we both reflected upon the foundation of our country, the American family, our conversation really became animated. We both remembered the days when children were a reflection upon their parents and their reputations.
When I was growing up, one of the worse beat downs I got from my Dad was when we were visiting his hometown of Cuthbert, Ga., in Randolph County. I had been walking back from the store and playing some basketball, and when I got home, word had spread that Buck West’s boy Allen was disrespectful because he did not speak to the old folks sitting on their porches.
I had committed the ultimate sin, according to the old-school ways. I had been disrespectful in not addressing my elders. I had not given the simple recognition of “Hello, ma’am,” Hello, sir,” “Afternoon, sir, or “Afternoon, ma’am.” And the insinuation was that my Dad was raising a disrespectful son.
Last Friday, President Obama stated that as a black man, he was followed at malls and shopping centers, had doors clicked when he crossed the street, and watched women clutch their handbags when he entered elevators with them. Well, perhaps, thanks to that one experience I had in Cuthbert, Ga., I never shared Obama’s experiences. Perhaps having parents who insisted that I be a respectful young man made the difference.
As we hiked, Denny and I reflected on how great it would be to have young black men in the inner city hike the Appalachian Trail for a day and spend a night – to expose them to the serenity and beauty of America instead of the chaos and despair that they witness every day in their neighborhoods.We agreed that toughness is not about cursing loud, joining a gang or killing someone in your neighborhood. If these young men are so adamant about killing people, they can focus their energy on a very determined enemy.Toughness is being pinned down by the enemy in a compound in Afghanistan, picking up a grenade thrown into that compound to protect your fellow paratroopers, and throwing it out only to have it explode as it leaves your hand – a now-prosthetic hand that I once shook.Toughness is disobeying orders and charging toward the sound of guns to rescue fellow Marines pinned down by heavy enemy fire or State Department officials under attack.
Toughness is looking at your family and telling them you have to go and take your post on freedom’s rampart to safeguard liberty, not knowing if that is the last time you will see them.
We can develop real toughness by gathering a group of young, inner-city black men, giving them a map, having them load supplies and telling them they have a certain amount of hours to reach a shelter and prepare their food for the evening while also ensuring they secure their site.
This past Saturday, the race-baiters just created more noise, more chaos, and still more young black men died in Chicago. What if we had decided to round up young black men and take them out for a hike? What if we had decided to take them away from the chaos and give them a place of respite where we could talk in peace and reflection?
When are we going to stop addressing the symptoms and treat the disease, the illness that afflicts the black community – the breakdown of families. Members of the black community can be angry all they want, but Bill O’Reilly of Fox News was right in a poignant “Talking Points Memo” commentary this week.
As two American men from different backgrounds, Denny and I shared the experience of parents, Dads, who raised us to be the men we are today.While we were on the Appalachian Trail, we met a recent college graduate named Steph from Massachusetts. She started hiking the trail May 28 in Georgia. She was alone on the trail because her male hiking partner, John, had allowed her to go off alone. Denny and I ran into John after seeing Steph a second time at Manassas Gap shelter crossroads. She had left him a message.As two Dads with two daughters, Denny and I pondered chivalry and what we would have done to ole John if he had allowed our daughters to be alone on the Appalachian Trail. Nope, our musings were not an indictment of Steph as a capable young woman and a hiker. They were a reflection upon what it meant to us to be chivalrous men as opposed to what that seems to mean today.The next generation needs moments of serene reflection, and it needs us as parents to demand a higher standard, not the standard of low expectations that this culture will inculcate into their lives.
The next generation in the black community needs less voices yelling and less chaos that reinforces the soft bigotry of low expectations. It needs more role models who will expose them to the serene moments of reflection, responsibility and respect.
Steadfast and Loyal,
Allen B. West