The youth today, many known to be part of street organizations (what
society calls “Gangs”), have this thing about respect. They’ll tell you in a heartbeat that all they want in this
world is “respect.” Now
you ask them what that means and you might get 100 different answers,
but they all come down to acknowledgment. Whether it’s a head nod,
or an open ear to the realities of their world, respect is a real
commodity for them. The more they have, the more they seem to value
don’t know how to get it and they try to demand it. They don’t understand
that respect is not given (or taken, for that matter), but earned.
If they live long enough, they’ll also discover respect is learned,
for the young often confuse being liked (or loved) with being respected.
You hear them often lament that nobody gives them “no love” and
so they, in turn, give no respect.
really has nothing to do with the other. You can like a person and
not respect them. Conversely, you can not like a person but have
a whole lot of respect for them. You might even like (appreciate)
them in the end. When one learns to give respect, they’ll learn
they get respect, for respect is often a mutual proposition, a reciprocal
endeavor that has nothing at all to do with being liked (or loved).
It is usually derived out of a conflict or confrontation and usually
results out of an appreciation for the integrity of a person’s principled
stand. You can disagree with a person’s position but respect their
stand if it’s on a point of principle.
lesson came full circle to me while attending the funeral of long-time
Tom Bradley aide, Bill Elkins, Jr., who passed away at the age of
90. I first met Bill Elkins as an NAACP official at a community
meeting on then Mayor Tom Bradley’s pet project, the Baldwin Hills
Crenshaw Mall in 1986. We were on the opposite sides of this significant
community economic development issue. Over the next three years,
Bill Elkins and I would have some ferocious public encounters. Looking
back 25 years later, they were some ugly encounters. Bill
Elkins was the ultimate curmudgeon. As Mayor Tom Bradley’s primary
community ambassador, he was perceived as an ill-tempered, difficult,
cantankerous old man (we were in our late 20s, they were in their
mid-60s - he was old to us then) with, what we thought then as,
an antiquated view of the world.
in the 1980s still had their world (and community action) view shaped
by the 1960s. Bradley, Elkins and the like thought that young folks
like us (which to them was anybody under 40) should be seen and
not heard in the community. They should respect their elders, meaning
talk when we’re spoken to and respond only when asked a question.
And we did respect them. We just didn’t worship them.
we talked back when we thought we had something to say (because
most of the time we did) and we expected them to listen to us as
they expected us to listen to them. Didn’t always work that way,
particularly with Elkins and me. Bill ended up shouting at us, and
we ended up shouting back.
wanted the mall developed, come hell or high water, even though
the economics of the deal never synced in favor of the community
having a vested interest. They knew the economics of the deal weren’t
favorable, they just didn’t know we knew, too. The Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw
Mall ended up being every bit of the compromise we said it would
be. It’s still surviving but “phase two” never got off the ground
and today looks like Beirut or Afghanistan.
20 years later, in the mid-2000s, Bill and I had a conversation
about the mall debate. He had just had hip surgery and was a lot
calmer by then. So was I. Both of us reflected on that experience
as a mix of generation gap and culture clash. He acknowledged that
mistakes were made and they could have listened more. I acknowledged
that “the youngstas” could’ve been a little more diplomatic. He
said, “you mean respectful?” We both laughed.
was still Bill, hardlined and still trying to put a youngsta
in his place. It really didn’t matter as much. We probably still
didn’t like each other very much - more than we did 20 years ago
- but we both respected each other and our infrequent encounters
were a lot more pleasant - even respectful. Bill never cared if
you liked him. He only cared that you respected him. Guess it was
just the lessons of growing old and appreciating the fight for what
it was. Couldn’t have said I expected it, but I did appreciate being
able to talk to him about it.
I heard he had passed away, I said a prayer for him and his family.
I didn’t see myself as particularly close to him but he was a community
comrade and I wanted to pay my respects. A packed church
at Second Baptist came to do the same thing. Generals usually get
all the accolades and lieutenants usually are forgotten over time.
Bill Elkins legacy was that of being a 20 year loyal and committed
soldier to the Bradley legacy. The community respected that.
sure many attended the service out of a deep love and friendship
for Bill Elkins. I’m sure all were there in a show of deep respect
for Bill Elkins. I
know I was. It’s a life lesson we often miss when we are young,
searching for respect, never understanding that it is earned in
ways one least expects.
becomes mutual as time reveals the results of our stands. Sometimes
it takes a passing to realize what the fight was really all about.
We both wanted progress, just in different ways.
respect, Bill Elkins. Rest in peace.
BlackCommentator.com Columnist, Dr. Anthony
Asadullah Samad, PhD is a national columnist and author of Saving The Race: Empowerment Through Wisdom. His Website is AnthonySamad.com. Click here to
contact Dr. Samad.