I came from a broken family, spent the first ten years of my life in foster care, and lived in the poorest and roughest area of a working class town in Pennsylvania.
It might be hard to believe, but by the age of ten, I was already a gang member, petty thief, and academic failure. A neighborhood friend of mine went to prison for the stabbing death of one of our high school basketball stars. It could have been me -- in prison or the morgue.
It was not luck that allowed me to rise above these circumstances, to serve my country in the United States Marine Corps, or to become the first in my family to graduate from college - Summa Cum Laude. I went on to Harvard Law School, practiced law for fifteen years, managed a radio station for ten, authored two books, pastored several churches, and won the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor of Virginia.
My life trajectory was literally altered over night when my father reclaimed custody of his son. He set high expectations, taught me discipline, and held me accountable for my actions. He modeled the dignity and pride of working for what you want in life. He bristled at the idea of accepting welfare or government handouts. He believed that respect is not owed but earned by conduct and character. He taught me the importance of honor and keeping your word. He was a man's man at a time when masculine strength was still a virtue.
He demanded that I respect the law, police officers, and others in authority. My short-lived criminal career was over.
He did not deny the reality of racial prejudice. He simply denied its ability to determine my destiny. I was not allowed to think that anyone could stop me from achieving my goals. In short, my father was an American, imbued with American values of hope and high expectations that his son would have a better life than he did.
This attitude was common in the '50s, but America would experience a cultural sea change in the '60s that would erode the values that still guide my life. The black family was decimated in the process. Many in the black community would surrender their independence and entrepreneurial ambition for a welfare system of psychological captivity.
Drugs, crime, gangs, violence, murders, out of wedlock births, fatherless children, government housing, and monthly allotments of cash and food stamps would become the new normal. The governmental experiment in social transformation was an abject failure that did untold damage.
We cannot continue to do the same thing expecting different results. We need a comprehensive private sector plan to end the cycle of poverty, crime, and family disintegration. We need a way of re-instilling the values my Dad taught me, values once the norm in the black community. Until the rise of the welfare state in the 1960s, black citizens believed in education, hard work, and entrepreneurship. They trusted God instead of government, and their families held together and prospered in far more harsh racial conditions than faced today.
Government cannot transform culture, except for the worse, because politics prefers a dependent constituency to a community of achievers who think and act independently.
This is the premise for STAND's [Staying True to America's National Destiny Foundation] "Project Awakening" -- that a non-governmental approach is essential to solving the problems of America's inner cities. What is needed is private partnership among churches, businesses, private schools, and other institutions. Project Awakening is summarized by the acronym CREATE: CR is for cultural renewal. EA is for entrepreneurial awakening. TE is for technical education.
The entrepreneurial spirit once permeated the black community because they had no choice. That impulse should have been nurtured. Instead it was cut short by government “help.” We must focus on technical education to give people marketable skills instead of esoteric studies that often amount to political indoctrination.
However, it will take cultural renewal to instill again the value of education and entrepreneurship. My father changed my culture, changed what I valued, and changed my life. We have the ability to do that for every at-risk child in America, but it will require refusing a single dime of taxpayer funding.
This is counterintuitive given the trillions spent “solving” social problems, but either we cast a new vision with a new strategy or settle for islands of chaos in our midst. My father intervened before it was too late and changed my life. We can do the same for every young person looking for an exit off a dead end road. Government has tried and failed. It is time for private sector action.
Fifty years ago, my life was redirected and my destiny forever changed. Fifty years from now, a whole generation could be saying the same. Or we could be witnessing more gang warfare, riots, and yet another crop of young men bound for prison, drug addiction, and early death. The choice is ours.