Why Thug Culture Is Actually Our Inner-City Problem

There is absolutely nothing wrong with our inner-city children. Nothing, at all.

This premise flies in the face of most of the stats and the facts that we face daily; from kids in Detroit who are literally killing each other over designer sun glasses, to kids in far too many inner-cities who are dropping out of high school at record levels and hanging out on street corners and porches right in the middle of most people's work day. Or worse, those who are engaged in gangs, or those who make up the stunning 30-70% high school dropout numbers in this country. That said, nothing is wrong with our kids. Nothing at all.

Signal lesson in inner-city leadership.

When I was growing up, there were say 35 kids in my classroom, and while 30 kids wanted to learn and were really focused on it, 5 kids were busy acting like knuckleheads. Today, you walk into the very same school and classroom, and you will have 30 kids acting like knuckleheads, and 5 kids -- smart ones -- who are ashamed to admit that they want to learn. There is nothing wrong with our kids. They have just been overrun by "thug culture." Just that simple.

My mentor and friend Quincy Jones says that "it takes 20 years to change a culture." I would argue that over the past 20 years we have made dumb sexy. We have dumbed down, and even celebrated it, and we must make smart sexy again. We must make smart cool, so that kids want to stay in school.

Success is a culture, and a community is an eco-system. Noted author and pastor Rick Warren recently Tweeted, "you must CHOOSE success long before you experience it. It requires developing good habits. It doesnt just happen" (@RickWarren).

Rev. Warren was 100% right here. Success is something that you choose and adopt, and build as a culture, way before you actually see the fruits of it in your life. Failure is too. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and my personal hero and mentor Ambassador Andrew Young were brilliant because they created an eco-system where civil rights was respected, respectable, and even aspirational. People 'wanted' to do it, to be involved with it. So much so that it even attracted white, middle and upper middle class whites to come down to the south to join the movement during their off time from school. This is the same sort of eco-system transformation that is needed in and for our inner-city, under-served and so-called poor communities and neighborhoods.

And it can be done. Just look at this short video, and the impact that Ambassador Young and I had in a short one-hour session, at the B.E.S.T. Academy School here in Atlanta. A school adopted and fully supported by 100 Black Men of Atllanta. Watch and judge for yourself, what's possible.

And that is why I have called for a movement from civil rights to silver rights today, for this generation of our youth. This is why we at Operation HOPE are launching a new movement, built around HOPE Business In A Box, powered by the Gallup-HOPE Index, that we believe will change everything -- doubling the level of financial literacy, per school. Doubling the level of economic energy, per school. And quadrupling the level of business role models and business internships, per school, all across America, but particularly focused on our most at risk schools in urban and rural America. All measured and tracked and supported by a 100-year commitment from Gallup.

There is nothing wrong with our kids. Absolutely nothing. The fact is, they are brilliant, and brimming with opportunity, mostly untapped. They are our bench strength, quoting my friend Jim Cliftton, chairman and CEO of Gallup, from his book The Coming Jobs War, "for the playoff game for the rest of our lives."

I don't know about you, but I am suited up and ready for player support. Let's go.