BOSTON — TULLEY BROWN calls for a "bold vision" to uplift the youths of America. Mr. Brown is national director of Direction Sports, a nonprofit group geared to serve disadvantaged urban youths. The principles of its peer-run program have been adopted by several other programs across the country. (See accompanying article.)
"We need to have programs that provide a support to our educational system. We need to enhance kids' self-concept," Brown said in a Monitor interview.
Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley hails the 25-year-old program as a tool to convince youths that there are "alternatives to gangs and drugs." During a press conference this summer, Mayor Bradley stated that "Direction Sports should be expanded nationwide."
"Tulley Brown brings hope to communities, hope to young people," says the Rev. Samuel Williams, president of New Directions in Chicago, a spinoff of Direction Sports. "He has an idea that young people, if given a chance to learn and to participate, make a better world. I think he's right."
Mr. Williams has seen Brown at work in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta: "Everywhere he goes," he says, "he takes his idealism with him."
Brown speaks with conviction. From time to time during an interview he raises his voice to stress a point, sounding like a cross between a public defender and a basketball coach.
His "bold vision" has two parts: to design programs that support the educational system, and to enhance kids' self-esteem - ideally, with the involvement of the family.
Brown lends historical perspective on education: "When school systems evolved in America from one-room schoolhouses of the 19th century and before, they presupposed if not a supportive environment at least one that was neutral. But an American kid today grows up where there are constant derogatory or detracting `vibes,' experiences that take away from the ideals that are manifested through the school system."
Ideals such as what? Honesty is be one, responsibility, another.
Many youth programs such as Little League and scouting involve perhaps 15 percent of our nation's youth, and they don't necessarily support the notion, in a direct way, "that academics are a pleasure, a joy, are rich and that they lead to a satisfying conclusion," Brown says.
"The other point here is the fact that those are support programs that exist primarily for upper- and middle-class kids," he says. "There are so few of them in the sprawling `third world' of this country."
Programs are one part of Brown's vision; instilling self-esteem is the other.
"We have evolved - without meaning to - to a point where our society no longer meets the most fundamental of all emotional needs: `I'm OK with me, myself' or a sense of self-esteem," he says.
With the Industrial Revolution, he says, there came a migration to cities, urbanization, child labor laws: "Gradually - and insidiously - the roles that the child had that allowed him or her to experience that he or she was needed and valuable, disappeared," he says.
Gradually, unless a child had a stable home and supportive parents, or "unless you had a teacher, somebody who helped you experience that you were lovely, you became frustrated."
Frustration, says Brown, leads to anger, which leads to destruction: That's the syndrome that set South Central Los Angeles ablaze in the riots, he says - a syndrome brought on by people feeling unable to cause or prevent change.
"I believe in Goethe's principle," Brown concludes: "If you treat a person as they are, they'll stay as they are. But, treat them as they could be or should be, and they will become as they could be or should be."