Rarely during my 39 years as a journalist have I been as proud as I am now to report that my black colleagues in the profession have responded magnificently to my recent call to inspire black youngsters to learn to speak and write the English language.
Every black TV anchor person, correspondent, TV or newspaper executive, middle-grade reporter or editor I have been able to contact has said: ''Tell me what I must give.'' And the media superstars have made it clear that they will give not just their money, but their presence at schools to hand out $4,000 prizes to high schoolers who believe there is a pot of gold at the end of a well-written article, as well as in the end zone of a football field.
We are going to try to convince black teen-agers that becoming a marvelous user of the language of William Shakespeare, Bryant Gumbel and Bill Cosby has nothing to do with proving either that you are ''black'' or that you want to be white. We want youngsters to understand that speaking and writing well only prove that you know where the routes to success, the levers of power, are in this country.
Washington School Superintendent Floretta McKenzie and I have met and agreed on a program called Project Excellence. The monies collected for Project Excellence -- and there will be a lot -- will go into the tax-exempt D.C. Public School Foundation. None of the money will go for salaries or any other kind of ''overhead.''
A committee composed of three or four journalists, a school administrator, an English teacher and a renowned teacher of public speaking will select for prizes annually:
A) A few youngsters who have excelled as writers and speakers.
B) An equal number of youngsters who have made the greatest progress in learning to write and speak.
C) High-achieving black high schoolers from suburban counties as well as the District of Columbia.
We will be able to honor children from all school jurisdictions because leaders of a couple of foundations and wealthy individuals have telephoned me to say, ''We'd like to give money to this undertaking.''
McKenzie says of Project Excellence: ''Today too many young people believe that the obstacles to rewarding futures loom too large, and the journey may appear to lead nowhere.
''One of our most important missions is to show our children that the trek is worth the effort. This scholarship campaign can help to sound the call. By giving this support to achieving students we can begin to convey to all children that their adults are behind them with both encouraging words and substantive actions.''
Some self-styled experts on ''blackness'' argue that the resistance of black teen-agers to standard English ''is a way of establishing themselves as black.''
Now there is the problem that Project Excellence seeks to address. Kids who associate blackness with being inarticulate, being unable to really read and write, being jobless, being hopeless are in desperate need of new definitions of ''blackness.''
Deprived black children do not need the destructive nonsense of adults, white or black, telling them that incompetence can become a symbol of racial pride. Since no newspaper, black-owned or white-owned, no radio or television station, no magazine or advertising agency will pay anyone to dispense ''black English,'' where is black English ''useful, valuable, even beautiful,'' as a few deluders of black children are saying?
Some argue that we black journalists can't change a thing, because only the families of black kids and their neighbors in their impoverished neighborhoods can get to them.
Well, I don't believe that. Nor does McKenzie. Nor do my colleagues who are so prominent in journalism in the nation's capital. We are going to prove that we can make a difference, and that, once we do, we are going to provoke, or shame, proud black journalists in other cities to rescue millions of black teen-agers from the peer group trap of defeatism.