What Happens After the Rally in Trenton?
In the aftermath of the horrible rape of a 7-year-old, we need more than "event-driven" leadership.
In a national campaign, Al Sharpton has partnered with Newt Gingrich to address America's educational issues. He's big on saying that a good education is the "new civil rights" issue. Is Sharpton aware that two-thirds of Trenton Central High School's senior class runs the risk of not graduating in June because of lack of proficiency on a state exam? Is he aware that Trenton Central High was ranked 310 out of 316 high schools in the state? If so, prior to the gang rape, did he plan on rallying behind that? If he didn't know, then as an advocate for education of urban children, why didn't he know?
As of this writing, Jay-Z was a maybe for the rally, and it's my understanding that he spent some of his formative years in Trenton and actually attended Trenton Central High for a time. Assuming he attends the rally, will he pledge sustained support for Trenton's school district? Will he and Russell Simmons look at the 30 percent unemployment in Trenton's black communities and help forge a path out of the economic doldrums? Maybe Simmons will open a Phat Farm store on State Street in downtown Trenton and Jay-Z a Rocawear store on Martin Luther King Boulevard. Maybe they'll become silent investors in a few Trenton businesses and help grow them to multi-million dollar enterprises. Better still, Trenton has the people and talent to revitalize itself through community theater and culture. Maybe they'll give hearty donations to the Lighthouse Theatre where the rally is being held, as well as to Passage Theatre in downtown Trenton. Who knows? Anything is possible.
I'll concede to being sarcastic and perhaps harsh. Nobody can be everywhere and no visitor to a city should be expected to have a command of local politics. Besides, for all I know, the people planning the rally are briefing all of these celebrities about Trenton's issues. For all I know, the celebrities coming to the city have a plan to help put Trenton on a path to prosperity. Maybe the economic and policy issues that confront Trenton's residents and are directly related to the creation of an environment that makes it possible for a 7-year-old girl to be gang raped by teen-age boys will be discussed intelligently.
Maybe this rally will be a launch point to discuss a comprehensive plan to tackle many of Trenton's woes? Maybe. Somehow, I don't think that will be the case. I hope I'm wrong.
Roland Laird is the author of Still I Rise: A Graphic History of African Americans, and co-founder of My Image Studios (MIST) in Harlem, N.Y.