by Aminisha Black
There has been a lot of talk about the rash of violent incidents in the streets, including the recent shooting of a three year old who was playing in a Bedford- Stuyvesant playground. With the current pressure on NYPD to cease the stop and frisk policy, community members are torn between NYPD swarming their communities, and needing their children and families to be protected. A police state that treats community members like criminals or reacts to violent acts after the incident has occurred, cannot bring the violence in our communities to an end. The community itself is charged with providing the needs of the youth to develop in a healthy manner, so that policing is not required. Creating an environment that fosters the values of respect, understanding, and collaboration, makes it possible for youth to reach their full human potential.
While the banter goes back and forth as to who’s at fault for dangerous conditions that exist in our community, our children suffer. Abraham Maslow proposed a hierarchy of needs that explains human motivation. The diagram below shows that hierarchy, starting with basic physiological needs and progressing upward to self- actualization.
The second tier is the need for security. Only when one’s mind is free of worry about bodily harm, can they began to build cooperative relationships among their family, friends, and community members (Third tier). Without the adequate degree of security, we begin to look for ways to ensure our safety through alternative structures. Many inner city youth who feel threatened in their environments feel the need to adapt their mannerisms such as how they walk, talk, and dress, to bring them what they perceive as security. Many even decide their friendship affiliations or join gangs based on their need for security.
Many parents of adolescents will vouch for the character of their children and will often echo the sentiment of them “hanging out with the wrong crowd.” What adults perceive as children putting themselves in dangerous and risky environments, children see it very differently. Adolescents think they are ensuring a sense of security by adopting an “if you can’t beat them, join them mentality.” and align themselves with gangs, or other aggressive elements in the community. This illustrates the disconnection between their experiences and how we are perceiving their experiences.
So what do we do? What do we have them do? They must feel appreciated and respected before they are overrun with media images, rap songs, or aggressive elements of the community that may challenge their level of security. They must be shown respect from birth, where they learn respect is not something they must earn. When children progress through the stages of toddler, preschool, and school- age, they have ample opportunities to engage in activities and relationships that build their confidence in their abilities to perform tasks. Parents have to give children space to develop their own faculties, without stifling their esteem with their own aggressive behavior.
Also they have time to develop their ability to demand respect from those who may try to exert dominance over them, without being aggressive themselves. This has to be taught from preschool with as much emphasis and vigor as the ABC’s and 123’s. Starting on the playground, young kids have to learn how to communicate with their displeasures to peers and adults alike, and know their feeling are valid. Our children are little people, and when we teach them to give and demand respect, they will not stand for oppression of any sort. In the words of Steven Biko, “The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”
The Parents Notebook invites the community to send comments, share suggestions on how we create relationships, share projects for the sole purpose of moving our children up Maslow’s Hierarchy. We acknowledge Kojo Black, Educator and father of three daughters, for covering the second tier..the need for security. We welcome shares, personal examples of challenges met along the way to self-actualization. Returning to the highest held value of African people, the relationship between humans, we can and must preserve the lives of our children. Remember the transformation of a nation begins in the homes of its people. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org