As the discussion on race picks up momentum and the President calls for town meetings to discuss race relations, some interesting ideas have emerged from unlikely sources.
I have been particularly intrigued by some of the ideas I have heard coming from certain African-American clergy. One such idea is that in order to help inner city children, we ought to change the child labor laws. Specifically, the law should allow young people as early as 12 years of age to be gainfully employed at a wage level that is below the present minimum wage. This idea is based on the fact that these under aged young people in urban ghettos often have a desire to earn money, both to meet their own needs, and to help out their families.
An equally important reason for allowing people in their early teens to be employed in legal businesses is that it will enable them to learn the skills, develop the work ethic and acquire the habits that are essential to succeed in our society.
There are so many bad things that young people in the city can get into, and jobs during after school hours and during the summer would help to keep a lot of them out of trouble. A lower than minimum wage would encourage employers to hire them.
The child labor laws that are presently on the books were for another time in American life. A hundred years ago we needed those laws to keep children from being exploited at a time when desperate families had them working long hours in sweat shops and coal mines. Things have changed. Today we need new laws that will protect young workers on the one hand; while at the same time, encourage them to become contributing members of society on the other. Work is a good thing (I Thes. 4:11) and if we are going to keep urban youth out of the lucrative drug trade, we have to consider how to legitimately enable them to get jobs.
Another idea that has surfaced had been suggested by one of the most militant African-American pastors I know. This is a young leader who has been connected with many other young African-American pastors across the country. Together they envision a campaign that will encourage chastity among teenagers prior to marriage. One existing program created by the Southern Baptist Convention, called “True Love Waits,” has challenged tens of thousands of young people to remain chaste before marriage. However, my friend says that this program has not had much of an impact on the black community. He says that there is a need for a distinctly African-American initiative with which black youth can readily identify. He wants President Clinton to lend his support to this effort and thus give to it the kind of visibility that it needs to get off the ground.
Both of these initiatives have my endorsement, because they silence those racists who argue that all African-American leaders ever do is to demand their rights. Well, here is evidence that they are more than ready to assume responsibility for what happens in the black community. It is time for the rest of us, including the President, to hear them out on these initiatives and to get behind them.
Author and speaker Tony Campolo is a professor of sociology at Eastern College in St. David, PA.