Keynote address: fourth national summit on preventing youth violence

President and CEO William C. Bell delivered a keynote address at the Fourth National Summit on Preventing Youth Violence in Arlington, Virginia.


From the time I woke this morning, there has been a voice crying out in my head. It’s like a voice crying in the wilderness of the isolation that exists in so many of our communities across this great nation.

It is the voice of so many young people who keep saying, I am out here in these streets, and these streets have raised me.

It is a cry that is asking us to consider that the program, no matter how well intentioned, may not be enough to dismantle the institute that is creating the mindset that is holding too many of our children captive.

It is a cry that is calling out to ask the question: Are we serious this time? Are we serious enough to move beyond focusing on symptoms and begin to address the core issues staring us in the face?

Are we serious enough to begin to change the streets that are raising our children? Are we serious enough to acknowledge that these issues didn’t begin with Ferguson, Staten Island, North Charleston, or Baltimore?

Are we serious this time? The voices are crying:

Ja Rule and Mary J. Blige – These Streets Done Raised Me

“These streets done raised me
Don’t turn me off because I am still your child….
This world done changed me….
I am standing here looking in the mirror trying to convince myself that my life is getting better
But I know the outcome….
Nobody loves me…
Somebody please pray for me before I die on these streets….
These streets done raised me….
The world done changed me….
This world made me what I am, a 26-year-old kid with two kids….
There ain’t nothing you can do about us….
Nobody loves me; Mary please pray for me before I die in these streets….”

Are we serious enough to change the streets?

Just like we can’t help children heal in isolation from helping their families heal, we can’t help families heal in isolation from helping their communities heal.

We must change the streets.

When you take all that I have left (my respect), you leave me with no alternatives.

When you take hope from a person, you render then a beast of prey!!

We heard from several speakers today that we have challenges with jobs, unemployment, education, housing and violence.

When President Obama used some of his press conference time in the Rose Garden to speak about the unrest in Baltimore, he said, “This is not new.” And indeed, this is not new.

There are three actions/conversations that happened within a month of each other 47 years ago.

President Lyndon Johnson formed an 11-member National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders in July 1967 to explain the riots that plagued cities each summer between 1964 and 1967 to provide recommendations for the future.

The National Advisory Commission in Civil Disorders, known as the Kerner Commission, after its chair, Gov. Otto Kerner, Jr. of Illinois.

The Commission’s 1968 report concluded that the nation was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white, separate and unequal.” Unless conditions were remedied, the Commission warned the country faced a “system of ‘apartheid’” in its major cities.

The Kerner Report delivered an indictment of our society for isolating and neglecting African Americans and urged legislation to promote racial integration and to enrich slums – primarily through the creation of jobs, job training programs and decent housing.

Might I remind you that this was 47 years ago.

President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had already pushed through the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, ignored the report and rejected the Kerner Commission’s recommendations. In April 1968, one month after the release of the Kerner report, rioting broke out in more than 100 cities following the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.

The report was not completely ignored. It also recommended increased surveillance in and the use of police informants in these neighborhoods, and increased militarization of police forces.

In 1998, to mark the 30th anniversary of the Kerner Report, the Eisenhower Foundation sponsored two complementary reports, The Millennium Breach and Locked in the Poorhouse.

The Millenium Breach, co-authored by former senator and commission member, Fred R. Harris, found the racial divide had grown in the subsequent years with inncer city unemployment at crisis levels.

The Millenium Breach found that most of the decade that followed the Kerner Report, America made progress on the principal fronts the report dealt with: race, poverty and inner cities. Then progress stopped and in some ways reversed by a series of economic shocks and trends and the government’s action and inaction.

Harris reported, “Today, 30 years after the Kerner Report, there is more poverty in America, it is deeper, blacker and browner than before, and it is more concentrated in the cities, which have become America’s poorhouses.”


Lyndon B. Johnson appointed the commission on July 28, 1967, while rioting was still underway in Detroit. Mounting civil unrest since 1965 had spawned riots in the black neighborhoods of major U.S. cities, including Los Angeles (Watts riots of 1965), Chicago (Division Street riots of 1966), and Newark (1967 Newark riots).

In his remarks upon signing the order establishing the Commission, President Johnson asked for answers to three basic questions. “What happened?” “Why did it happen?” “What can be done to prevent it from happening again?”

Members of the Commission

Otto Kerner, governor of Illinois and chair
John Lindsay, mayor of New York and vice chairman
Edward Brooke, senator (R-Mass.)
Fred R. Harris, senator (D-Okla.)
James Corman, congressman (D-Calif.)
William McColloch, congressman (D-Ohio)
Charles Thornton, founder of the defense contractor, Litton Industries
Roy Wilkins, executive director, NAACP
I.W. Abel, president, U.S. Steelworkers of America
Herbert Turner Jenkins, police chief, Atlanta
Katherine Graham Peden, commissioner of commerce, Kentucky

Summary of Report


The summer of 1967 again brought racial disorders to American cities, and with them shock, fear and bewilderment to the nation.

The worst came during a two-week period in July, first in Newark and then in Detroit. Each set of a chain reaction in neighboring communities.

On July 28, 1967, the president of the United States established this commission and directed us to answer three basic questions:

What happened? Why did it happen? What can be done to prevent it from happening again?

To respond to these questions, we have undertaken a broad range of studies and investigations. We have visited the riot cities; we have heard many witnesses; we have sought the counsel of experts across the country.

This is our basic conclusion: Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, separate and unequal.

Reaction to last summer’s disorders has quickened the movement and deepened the division. Discrimination and segregation have long permeated much of American life; they now threaten the future of every American.

This deepening racial division is not inevitable. The movement apart can be reversed. Choice is still possible. Our principal task is to define that choice and to press for a national resolution.

To pursue our present course will involve the continuing polarization of the American community and, ultimately, the destruction of basic democratic values.

The alternative is not blind repression or capitulation to lawlessness. It is the realization of common opportunities for all within a single society.

This alternative will require a commitment to national action – compassionate, massive and sustained – backed by the resources of the most powerful and the richest nation on this earth. From every American it will require new attitudes, new understanding, and, above all, new will.

The vital needs of the nation must be met; hard choices must be made….

Violence and destruction must be ended in the streets…..and in the lives of people.

It is time now to turn with all purpose at our command to the major unfinished business of this nation. It is time to adopt strategies for action that will produce quick and visible progress. It is time to make good the promises of American democracy to all citizens – urban and rural, white and black, Spanish, American Indian, and every minority group.

Our recommendations embrace three basic principles:

To mount programs on a scale equal to the dimension of the problems;

To aim these programs for high impact in the immediate future in order to close the gap between promise and performance;

To undertake new initiatives that can change the system of failure and frustration that now dominates these communities and weakens our society.

There can be no higher priority for national action and no higher claim on the nation’s conscience….

The commission examined concerns raised by citizens around why they were at a point of unrest. Although specific grievances varied from city to city, at least 12 deeply held grievances can be identified and ranked into three levels of relative intensity:

First Level of Intensity

  1. Police practices
  2. Unemployment
  3. Inadequate housing

Second Level of Intensity

  1. Inadequate education
  2. Poor recreation facilities and programs
  3. Ineffectiveness of the political structure and grievance mechanisms

Third Level of Intensity

  1. Disrespectful white attitudes
  2. Discriminatory administration of justice
  3. Inadequate federal programs
  4. Inadequate municipal services
  5. Discriminatory consumer and credit practices
  6. Inadequate welfare programs

The Commission found that action to ameliorate African American grievance had been limited and sporadic; with but few exceptions, they had not significantly reduced tensions.

In several cities, the official response had been to train and equip the police with more sophisticated weapons.

When President Obama used some of his press conference time in the Rose Garden to speak about the unrest in Baltimore, he said, “This is not new.”

And indeed this is not new.

“The Other America”

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. – Grosse Pointe High School – March 14, 1968

… I still believe that freedom is the bonus you receive for telling the truth. Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. And I do not see how we will ever solve the turbulent problem of race confronting our nation until there is an honest confrontation with it and a willing search for the truth and willingness to admit the truth when we discover it.

And so I want to use as a title for my lecture tonight, “The Other America.” And I use this title because there are literally two Americas. Every city in our country has this kind of dualism, this schizophrenia, split at so many parts, and so every city ends up being two cities rather than one.

There are two Americas.

One America is beautiful for situation. In this America, millions of people have the milk of prosperity and the honey of equality flowing before them. This America is the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies, culture and education for their minds, freedom and human dignity for their spirits.

In this American children grow up in the sunlight of opportunity.

But there is another America. This other America has a daily ugliness about it that transforms the buoyancy of hope into the fatigue of despair.

In this other America, thousands and thousands of people, men in particular, walk the streets in search of jobs that do not exist.

In this other America, millions of people are forced to live in … distressing housing conditions…. Almost 40 percent of the (African American) families of the America live in sub-standard housing conditions.

In this other America, thousands of young people are deprived of an opportunity to get an adequate education.

Every year, thousands finish high school reading at a seventh, eighth and sometimes ninth grade level. Not because they’re dumb, not because they don’t have the native intelligence, but because the schools are so inadequate, so over-crowded, so devoid of quality, so segregated if you will, that the best of these minds can never come out.

Probably the most critical problem in the other America is the economic problem.

There are so many other people in the other America who can never make ends meet because their incomes are far too low if they have incomes, and their jobs are so devoid of quality. And so in this other America, unemployment is a reality and under-employment is a reality….

And that is one of the most critical problems that we face in America today [1968]. We find in the other America unemployment constantly rising to astronomical proportions and black people generally find themselves living in a literal depression.

When President Obama used some of his press conference time in the Rose Garden to speak about the unrest in Baltimore, he said, “This is not new.”

And indeed this is not new.

Robert F. Kennedy – University of Kansas – March 18, 1968

For we as people, we as people, are strong enough, we are brave enough to be told the truth of where we stand. This country needs honesty and candor in its political life and from the President of the United States. But I don’t want to run for the presidency – I don’t want America to make the critical choice of direction and leadership this year with confronting the truth. I don’t want to win the support of votes by hiding the American condition in false hope or illusions.

I want us to find out the promise of the future, what we can accomplish here in the United States, what this country does stand for and what is expected of us in the years ahead. And I also want us to know and examine where we’ve gone wrong. And I want all of us, young and old, to have a chance to build a better country and change the direction of the United States of America….

And if we seem powerless to stop this growing division between Americans, who at least confront one another, there are millions more living in the hidden places, whose names and faces are completely unknown – but I have seen these other Americans.

I have seen children in Mississippi starving, their bodies so crippled from hunger and their minds have been so destroyed for their whole life that they will have no future. I have seen children in Mississippi – here in the United States – with a gross nation product of $800 billion –

I have seen children in the Delta area of Mississippi with distended stomachs, whose faces are covered with sores from starvation, and we haven’t developed a policy so we can get enough food so that they can live, so that their children, so that their lives are not destroyed, I don’t think that’s acceptable In the United States of America, and I think we need a change.

I have seen Indians living on their bare meager reservations, with no jobs, with an unemployment rate of 80 percent, and with so little hope for the future, so little hope for the future that for young people, for young men and women in their teens, the greatest cause of death amongst them is suicide.

That they end their lives by killing themselves – I don’t think that we have to accept that – for the first American, for this minority here in the United States. If young boys and girls are so filled with despair when they are going to high school and feel that their lives are so hopeless and that nobody’s going to care for them, nobody’s going to be involved with them, nobody’s going to bother with them, that they either hang themselves, shoot themselves or kill themselves – I don’t think that’s acceptable, and I think the United States of America – I think the American people, I think we can do much, much better.

I have seen the people listening to ever greater promises of quality and of justice as they sit in the same decaying schools.

If we believe that we, as Americans, are bound together by a common concern for each other, then an urgent national priority is upon us. We must begin to end the disgrace of this other America.

And this is one of the great tasks of leadership for us, as individuals and citizens this year.

We must change the streets: Integrated government

  • Change the opportunity pathways
  • Change the boarded up and burned out buildings; some have been there for the past 47 years
  • Change the community leadership; let’s stop abdicating leadership to those who run the violence factories
  • Change how we acknowledge and address the historic and accumulated trauma in our streets
  • Change the problem-solving models that we allow to go unchecked in our streets
  • Change the quality of all of our educational institutions
  • Change the level of fear and lack of safety in our streets
  • Change our willingness to accept that and address the impact of our failure to heed the warnings of our past is having on our present and our future
  • Change from CompStat to Community Stat and focus on all community outcomes: law enforcement, education, labor, health and human services

Are we serious this time?

Ja Rule and Mary J. Blige – These Streets Done Raised Me

These streets done raised me
Don’t turn me off because I am still your child….
This world done changed me….
I am standing here looking in the mirror trying to convince myself that my life is getting better
But I know the outcome….
Nobody loves me….
Somebody please pray for me before I die on these streets….
These streets done raised me….
The world done changed me….
This world made me what I am, a 26-year-old kid with two kids….
There ain’t nothing you can do about us….
Nobody loves me; Mary please pray for me before I die in these streets….

Notes from JW Marriott Notepad

On every street, hope, education and economic opportunity must all live together on the same street, on every street in America.

Love, housing and healthy, life-giving food must all live together on the same street, on every street in America.

Freedom from harassment, freedom from school expulsion and unnecessary incarceration and freedom from constant exposure to mind-numbing, hope-and-expectation-stealing violence all must live together on the street, on every street in America.

How can we use the language of love and hope when our minds and our thoughts are clouded with the language of labels?

Labels like:

  • Poor vs. income insufficient
  • Thugs
  • Fatherless, don’t have a father
  • Convicts
  • The hood
  • Under-served
  • Under-privileged
  • Disconnected

Both the plantation and the enslaved people lived on the same plot of land, but their perspectives around the quality of their lives and the prospects for their futures were very different.

How many of you ever thought your parents loved one of your siblings more, no matter what they said? How many of you have a favorite child, no matter what you say?

The images that I see when I look at me have more to do with how I treat myself and others than anything you say to me!! People know when they matter less to others.