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Street Soldier

Posted Apr 12 2006

The term "soldier" is about as common in contemporary hip hop the word thug, n*gga, or b*tch, yet none of these yahoos can tell you what they're fighting for.

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The term "soldier" is about as common in contemporary hip hop the word thug, n*gga, or b*tch, yet none of these yahoos can tell you what they're fighting for. OK, so I'm being a bit harsh, but as a high school teacher in East Oakland, I see the direct impact of the lifestyles glamorized by these entertainers and the corprate media on young people. Yeah, I grew up on hip hop and yes I remember that some of that hip hop included the likes of the 2 Live Crew, Onyx, and AMG. However, it also included more political groups such as Public Enemy and Paris. At least there was balance and basic skills were needed. As I've gotten older, I've come to realize some of the limitations of the music, the anger, and the lack of organization on our part as young people "back then," and thus I ended up as a teacher. But I digress...

In Street Soldier Marshall, with the help of Wheeler, chronicles the rise of the Omega Boys Club, a youth progam, set in San Francisco, CA. Yes, it is named after the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, although Marshall is more than willing to chastise some of the brothers for not stepping up to the plate and serving their mission. He doesn't bite his tongue and serves verbal whuppings to everyone from politicians to teachers. Yet, his anger isn't for anger's sake. He's simply frustrated at a society that refuses to respect and help young black males outside of the sports and music world. Make no mistake though, Marshall is quick to admonish the young men for their lack of respsonsibility, when warranted. Yet this admonishment, like his anger, is rooted in love. While he doesn't claim to have all of the answers, he details how he, alongside partners such as Jack Jucqua and Margaret Norris have implemented strategies that have worked well for them. They've helped save countless lives and gotten young people into college and work programs. The awards have stacked up and they've been all around the world. Programs modeled after their work have popped up in cities such as L.A. and Chicago and their collaborators have included Danny Glover and Sinbad (this book was published in '97!).

Beyond all of the accolades and name dropping (which happens a bit more than necessary-the work and results speak for themselves!), the main reason that the book is so strong is that many of the young people are given a chance to speak for themselves and all of the tales are rooted in experience. The outlines and structure are based on actual successes and failures, not theory. Additionally, while the focus of the organization has been on Black males, they don't limit themselves and the book does make mention of work with other groups, including Samoans. While hip hop is not the focus, considering hip hop's roots and foundation, no matter if you listen to commercial or underground, this book is essential reading. Hip hop aside, anyone interested in a better world should pick this up for sure. Then, do something after you read the book!

For more info, check out the website at Street Soldiers or the radio show.

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