Many black youths fall under a spell of "gangster mentality," preventing them from becoming leaders and making a positive impact in politics, the Rev. Al Sharpton said.
The civil rights activist faulted Hollywood and the record industry for making "gangsterism" seem cool and acceptable.
"We have got to get out of this gangster mentality, acting as if gangsterism and blackness are synonymous," Sharpton said Thursday at the annual conference of the National Association of Black Journalists.
"I think we've allowed a whole generation of young people to feel that if they're focused, they're not black enough. If they speak well and act well, they're acting white, and there's nothing more racist than that."
The key to leadership is taking the initiative to change things, said Sharpton. He said his National Action Network is just one group willing to help young black leaders get into politics.
"Nobody broke in my house in Brooklyn and dragged me out the projects and made me a leader, I wanted to do that. Clearly, we would work with young people who want to do the work," he said.
Sharpton is right about the gangster culture being a motivational drag, but the solution to the problem isn't just to get young black kids interested in politics. Most non-black kids aren't particularly interested, either.
Motivating urban youth isn't about getting kids into voting. It's about getting them to realize that the future is theirs and not anyone else's.
Back in high school, I spent about a year in the Kansas City School District, which at the time had some of the very highest in per pupil spending in the country. Yet test scores never really improved much, and eventually, the school district lost its accreditation by the state. My experience there led me to believe that the solution to getting people off their ass isn't to be found in a politician's speech. The solution will be found in parental involvement and community participation.
Government can provide some of the solution in this, but it can't fill all the gaps.