How To Raise a Thug, by Kimberley Jane Wilson

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“My baby is a good boy! He didn’t do nothing wrong!”

The woman who spoke these words sat crying in a rocking chair on her porch. Her 18-year-old son was in jail awaiting trial for a very serious crime. She was a friend of my mother’s, and when Mamma rushed to comfort this poor woman I tagged along. My mother spoke soothing words to her, and coaxed her into going inside and lying down. I said almost nothing. I couldn’t bring myself to speak my mind. I’d known this woman’s son since the day he was born and, in light of his history, I was pretty sure that he was guilty.

Later, the boy was convicted and went to prison. About five years into his sentence, his mother died and he was allowed to attend the funeral. He wore a nice blue suit accessorized with handcuffs, shackles and two matching U.S. marshals on either side of him. Most of the folks at the funeral shook their heads and complained that it wasn’t necessary for the officers to bring him into the church that way. I said nothing. All I could think – and I know this will sound unkind – was that his appearance was a fitting testimony to the way he’d been raised.

The boy’s dad ran out on him and his mother when he was a baby, and did everything but deny his parentage in court. The boy’s mother was hurt, angry and – I’m sure – frightened as well. So she ran to other men. She kept hoping to find someone to take her pain away, but, in the process, her son saw too much and heard too much at too young an age.

While still a pre-teen, the boy started getting into trouble in school. Later, he became involved in petty shoplifting and minor vandalism. His poor, distracted mother defended him against teachers, administrators and the neighbors, but he finally did something from which she couldn’t save him. I don’t think she ever really saw him as a guilty criminal. He was her baby – so the blame had to be on the police, the system and his accusers.

This boy wasn’t born bad, and please don’t think I’m picking on his mother either. His father failed him first, and our society allowed him to do it. Fatherlessness is a serious problem in the black community. A boy without a dad is far more likely to get into criminal trouble than one who has a father, or at least a strong father figure at home. We know this, yet, out of fear of being called judgmental, we say nothing to the man who deliberately rejects his parental responsibilities towards his children.

As any parent who’s ever visited their child in prison can tell you, love is not enough. Tolerance is not enough. Children need checks and boundaries. My mother was a strong disciplinarian – thank God – and she firmly believed that it was her duty to teach me that actions had consequences or the School of Hard Knocks would do it for me later. Naturally, I didn’t appreciate her efforts at the time!

Thugs are not born – they are made. In Washington DC, where I lived for most of my life, over 40% of black men are “involved” in the criminal justice system. No, they aren’t cops. They’re in jail, on probation, waiting for trial or wanted for some crime. In other cities, such as Baltimore, that number is even higher.

Thugs are not born. The young men who are terrorizing our communities today didn’t come from a void. They were raised in our homes and in our streets. I’ve yet to meet a person who said they wanted to raise a thug, but, unless a boy has parents who are willing to raise him with love, dedication and sacrifice, it’s just so pitifully easy to create one.


(Kimberley Jane Wilson is a member of Project 21’s National Advisory Board and a conservative writer living in Virginia. She can be reached at [email protected].)

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