Dear Editor,

While I drove along the waterfront today, I saw a young man hard at work. He was begging money from people passing by.

I know part of that young man’s story, and there are four other men I see on the streets of St. Thomas, about whom I have some knowledge, because I knew three of them at school.

One I did not meet in school, but I met him shortly after I migrated to St. Thomas, and I keep remembering our first meeting. It was a casual meeting with some other friends, but there were comments during that meeting which still make me feel sad, each time I see the young man begging other people who do work — something he swore never to do in his life.

For every human being, rich or poor, young or old, the choices or decisions we make for our lives, always have consequences. The fellow I met shortly after I came to the Virgin Islands was around a group of young men who were getting up early in the morning, then going to work during the rest of the day. The conclusion the young man arrived at was, “I cannot see myself going out and working.”

So, he has been begging his way through life. The young man has kept his early promise of not working to earn wages. With the other young men, it was one of two things. They opted not to take their education seriously while at school, or they got caught up early in drug use and it warped their minds. So, they dropped out of school early and never grew to appreciate the value and honor of work, or to see it as a critical aspect of life, fostering a sense of independence, and the importance of self, in a harsh, competitive world.

My reference to, and reflection on these cases, is not to demean anyone. Many times, when I am approached by these young men, I do what I can, in terms of donating money or food. However, they made poor decisions in their lives, even the one who laughed at me, while in my eighth grade class at Addelita Cancryn Junior High School. There, he often referred to me as a “faggot.” In time, he left school early, and has had his young life misshapen by dangerous drugs.

My first encounter with him beyond school, was when he saw me some years ago and on recognizing who I am, he came rushing toward me asking for money. The young man seemed quite “high” at the time, too. The other young man I knew at Cancryn, but he did not go much further with his education. He, too, was trapped by drugs, instead of making it through school. Now, he patrols the streets, usually not looking for money, but seemingly, to bring his mind back to some sense of normalcy.

It is interesting that the Bible noted, “The poor you will always have with you.” When such people are with us, we should pause, look into our communities, examine ourselves to see how we can bring change to such people, thus making life richer, more acceptable for everyone, even when there is evidence that bad decisions were made by some along the way.

Usually, one or both of these factors are at play in many cases where young people made bad decisions and poor choices for their lives, then become examples of failed human beings, wandering around sadly in our communities.

Education and good parenting are very important to all young people. There are cultural and family designed matters, which should be shared with children as they grow into women and men. Everything should not be left for them to discover on their own. That passing on of generational learning is very important to cultural and human survival.

Our children should be taught early that education is something they will need, to experience meaning and success in life. It helps us in our thinking, seeing the world, and with making best decisions about our lives and the future. When there is failure to educate and parent children, we send them out into this complex, often dangerous and changing world, as fragile beings set for extinction, not prepared for survival into the future.

During the 1700s, the French community on St. Kitts determined it wanted to keep Africans there enslaved for the next thousand years. In their attempt to achieve that goal, the priests advised that young black children be taken from their mothers at an early age, and given to a group of nuns at the Salt Pond area to be raised. Fortunately, that approach to use foster parenting and indoctrination to limit the lives of African people born on St. Kitts then did not work. Over time, education and genuine parenting won out. They helped to transform Caribbean societies. In 2021, we cannot afford not to parent and educate our children. They need guidance and enlightenment to survive, into the future, away from the streets.

— Whitman T. Browne, Ph.D., St. Thomas, is a retired educator.