This is the summation of the American Dream, the piece of the pie that young men and women everywhere aspire to obtain. They are raised with the ethic that if you work hard, you will succeed. If you go to school and get an education, you’ll get a good job, a beautiful partner, and a white picket fence surrounding nice, green grass to water on Sundays. But what happens when your school is a war zone? Nothing more than a fashion show and the education you get from a teacher who doesn’t see you as a person, but as a problem and, therefore, treats you as such. What happens when your job pays you slave wages but the cost of living is a king’s ransom? Now even if you do have a degree, a piece of paper confirming you’ve been educated, just the fact of being young and black is considered a liability instead of an asset. Under these circumstances, the only fence you see is around your complex or the prison a lot of them end up in and by the time they see that nice, green grass, it is the manicured lawn of the cemetery as a final resting place.
The American Dream has been deferred so those who realize this have chosen another avenue to success, another road to riches, a darker but parallel path. This is the way of the gangster -- the one who makes his own list of rules and enforces it, his word is his gun and his silence is law. Violations are dealt with swiftly and by the code of the streets. Justly, this is a world where loyalty and honor really mean something because anything less can cost you your life. The gangster knows he isn’t living the American Dream, he is a part of the American reality though.
I know that this country was built on the same principles that we ruthlessly enforce. We know and understand the settlers pillaged and conned the Native Americans out of their land and when the Natives got wise, they raped, burned, and slaughtered all who stood in their path. So while you eat turkey on Thanksgiving, the American tradition, the gangster (government) celebrates the biggest takeover this country has ever seen, a real thug holiday. But it doesn’t stop there. We, as African Americans, took from these tactics a FU attitude. When Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty or give me death”, they might as well screamed, “Ride or Die!” because that’s what he meant in today’s terms. We, the Americans, ran the English off their block and we celebrate it on the Fourth of July and even sing its praises before major sporting events and salute it around the country.
The American flag, its colors, these same colors, red and blue, have split the streets, literally ripping them in half. Making half our Bloods and the other half Crips. Yet, however you cut it, red and blue are part of the American colors but white is the American power (government/gangsters). The street gangster sees this, understands it, and applies it to the world in which he dwells. He turns the UN into give families, the Geneva Convention into a gang peace treaty, instead of invading countries, he invades neighborhoods, spreading the same violence, poison and corruption on a smaller scale. He destroys lives, creates illusions, and sells dreams, all the while profiting until one day the very law he created, destroys him. Then, another man disenfranchised by the system, steps up and is even more ruthless, violence and cunning than his predecessor and the cycle continues. Don’t blame the man, don’t hate the game because, you see, it’s part of the American way. We’ve become products of our environment, so the only question left is to ask how far are you willing to go?
We have lessons to be learned. They are not fairy tales. They are not manufactured, commercial gangsters that BET, the source of clear channel communication creates for your entertainment. The set is our neighborhoods, not a studio. There are no stunt doubles or rehearsal so no one will cry “Cut!” because these are the real versions of who will live and who will bleed, who won and lost. In short, these are the chronicles of gangstas that lives them. Yes, these are only a few of the millions of stories to tell and tomorrow there will be millions more. What we present is like snapshots of a continuous riot, some faces laughing, some crying, some bloodied in the custody of police officers, some fleeing the scene, arms wrapped around a stolen plasma tv. Nevertheless, the riot continues and it will continue until we realize that we have two options. Either we play the game all the way our or get all the way out of the game. Take the hustle, the grime and the gangstas to a new level, the street chronicles are a testament to that whole new level and what the power of expression can do.
We, as supreme thinkers, are using our minds in diverse ways to articulate what the masses are not seeing. This is for the beautiful women who do ugly things and for the intelligent brothers who make dumb decisions and for the next generation of ghetto kids who need someone to look up to and an ideal to believe in from the streets to the books and from the books to beyond. The world is for those with courage to claim and and wisdom to maintain it. Remember to take what you see and hear and use what you can. Discard the rest but by no means allow yourself to become just another story to tell or just another name to remember on walls or t-shirts. Don’t become just another face lost in the riot of the street. Turn off the lights to the old ways and close the doors when you leave it.
(Dominic Harrison, Keen Mountain Correctional Center)