Ronald D. White, who consistently writes with wisdom and conscience, gave voice in his May 29 op-ed column to the disappointment many of us experienced at learning of the wrongdoing and alleged wrongdoing by blacks who hold high positions.
But I am troubled that he leaves the impression, first, that all black public officials are corrupt and, second, that the only suitable role models for black youth are politicians, lawyers, doctors or others with advanced degrees.
Only a small minority of black officials commit crimes and behave unethically, just as only a small minority of white officials commit crimes and behave unethically. I certainly do not believe White or any other reporter would declare that there are no acceptable white political role models in Congress because of Abscam. It is equally unfair to use such a broad brush regarding the District. Perhaps we have grown to accept a degree of corruption among white politicians, but we expect more from black politicians and thus are more disappointed when some do not live up to the standards we demand.
The second point is more important. White chastises much of the black middle class for failing to provide scholarships, speakers for schoolroom assemblies, mentors for individual students -- and rightly so. But there is a whole other corps of black men and women -- who do not have the degrees and the accoutrements of the upper middle class -- who are serving, as they always have, as the role models for our children.
I think of the men in the Prince Hall Chapter of the Order of Masons. There are a few lawyers and other professionals, but most are police officers, government workers, mechanics and the like, and they take very seriously their responsibility to the next generation of black youth. With ingenious fund-raising efforts, they provide thousands of dollars of scholarships to young people who might not be able to attend college without that aid. They provide a year-round program of educational and recreational activities, culminating in national competitions and awards, for young people who would not otherwise leave their home towns. The one condition of participation is making good grades. These men, and many others in community organizations throughout our city, are role models of the best sort. They are not the distant heroes of headlines; they are the men and women kids call on when it's really important.
Young black youths may want to play basketball like Michael Jordan, but for the vast majority, he will not be a real role model. Role models are those who become close and touch young people in a special way. It is generally the man or woman down the street, not the super basketball player or politician who comes into their homes via the tube. The overwhelming majority of black youth in Washington have no idea who the men and woman White cited in his article for corruption or defrauding the government are.
Yes, we need more role models, but I am not prepared to swallow White's argument hook, cork, line and pole. Not as long as there are men and women throughout our city who quietly reach out to young people and display to them a steely integrity, an abounding compassion, and an unerring sense of right and wrong. -- John L. Ray The writer is a member of the D.C. Council.