By Dan Crow
We all know of a Deante, even if we don’t really know a “Deante.” We see “Deantes” in movies, read about them in books and magazines and see their stories on the news or TV dramas. And it is always the same: Deante has a dilemma. A real one.
A dilemma occurs when one is faced with making a choice that has no positive outcome. When facing a dilemma, there may be more than one choice, but none of the choices is desirable and each choice has a major downside. Such horrible choices are entwined in the lives of the Deantes we all know. If you dare to continue thinking such uncomfortable thoughts you wind up asking, “Who is Deante?”
Deante is a young or younger male of darker pigmentation who has no father figure or positive male role model in his life. He is usually found in an urban poverty culture that is generations deep, neighborhoods wide and prison sentences long. Deante has some “relatives”—those who face similar problems of generational poverty—but with different causes and solutions in rural regions of our great land. But he faces a uniquely bleak horizon.
Deante does not face the daunting problems of episodic poverty that we see after hurricanes, tornados or flooding. Our hearts are more readily drawn to relieve such episodic poverty because the “there but for the grace of God, I could be” thought flits into our thinking and lodges comfortably. CONSIDER: We are aware of tornados, hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes because they are news events and are pushed into the forefront of world consciousness by media saturation. They hit us in the face via social media, internet news or TV. And, presto, via TEXT we send a donation to help fix the problem and feel better. And those problems do get better (unless you live in New Orleans.)
Deante’s Dilemma is deepened because there are never Telethons or benefits to address the issues of institutional dysfunction, poverty producing urban policies, systematic injustice and racist imagery that may be passive or very active. And tragically, while the church has often been at the forefront of offering volunteer help and financial relief to the episodic poverty catastrophes that wreak havoc in our world, the church slumbers in close proximity while the urban chaos worsens. It is not glamorous to address tough problems that are a short drive away. It is far more “sexy” to board a plane to far off lands to do relief. All the while, Deante is dying.
Deante faces the mountainous, seemingly insurmountable problems of generational and systemic poverty, mostly alone in quiet desperation. He gets little support from those closest to him. He hears, “Who do you think you are? You can’t get out. We’re stuck. The Man is against us.” This is likely the most important thing that we don’t understand about Deante and his world: His dilemma in the landscape of generational poverty is totally foreign to the thinking of most Americans because it is totally alien to our sphere of understanding. Outsiders look at Deante’s World and think, “I’d get out of there. I’d go to school, get a job and leave it behind. I’d do the American Dream.” The tragedy in such thinking is this: we don’t even know where “there” is; so we can’t imagine climbing out into the new world. Deante’s dilemma is not only difficult to understand and get our brains around, it is almost imperceptible to our vision because it is not a part of our world.
Deante not only faces generational poverty, he lives in a world where the justice system is definitely not just. Deante is not treated like my sons. And it’s not because he is not smart, for he is or very well may be, if we got to know him. It’s not because he didn’t have initiative and blew his opportunities. My kids have opportunities Deante has never seen because he faces Damian’s Dilemma of an unforgiving and cruel environment. He did not choose the place of his birth, his genealogical challenges or his economic disparity. The schools he will attend are not the ones that I’d let my boys attend. When my family lived in a dense, poorer urban neighborhood, my boys were privileged to have a mother and father who answered the challenge of substandard urban schools with our own challenge of doing home education. My five sons have parents who have college degrees and one has a post-graduate degree. Damian has heard of degrees but hopes that they don’t drop too low in the winter or too high in the summer. A degree is a concept that he can’t comprehend. But Deante does know that he lives 180 degrees from the world he would love to inhabit. It may as well be on the other side of the world.
That’s a dilemma, especially when Deante has no driver’s license or car. He doesn’t even have readily available public transportation. But he can scrape up the money for cool shoes. Deante’s Dilemma is reflected in his shoes. He will go all out for those shoes. They symbolize an identity, a success, for those locked into earthbound horizons.
Dan Crow is pastor of The Church at Covenant Park in Ellicott City, Md. He also serves as Chairman of the Board of Open Door Baltimore, a community development corporation in East Baltimore, Md.