Kenneth L. Hardin: We have to teach our kids to dream of a bright future

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 27, 2022

I recall reading an article years ago where a reporter was eavesdropping on a group of young Black boys around 12 years old and was surprised at the content of their conversation. He detailed how the kids vividly described the colors, fabric, construction and look of what he believed was either a car or some other material dream. As he listened more intently, he realized the children were talking about what kind of caskets they wanted to be buried in. Although I read that piece more than 20 years ago, it stays in the deepest and darkest recesses of my mind and turns on the porch light inside my head every now and then because nothing much has changed two decades later.

I look back on my time as a 12-year-old and there were no thoughts of such a dreary fatalistic inevitability toward life and the future. At that time, I was enjoying growing up in the bosom of this city nestled in the confines of the then safe West End community. I spent summer days playing in the vast gardens growing behind my grandparents’ home on Messner Street. I would play hide and seek in the rows of corn stalks and get a nickel for every potato I dug up. I fondly recall sitting on their back porch snapping green beans with my grandmother filling up a brown paper Food Lion grocery bag. I learned my numbers by going out to the wooden garage my grandfather built and counting the mason jars full of the things we took from nature’s grocery store. My grandmother gave me part of her green thumb before she left to be with Glory by teaching me how to use a hoe to turn over dirt, plant and replant flowers and revive anything close to death in a pot or in the ground.

Reading the article, I felt a deep sense of anger as the words leapt off the page and into my consciousness. I was incensed because these young kids didn’t get to experience or enjoy the simplicity of life like I did at their age. We were allowed to be children without all the frightening issues that have curtailed young folks’ abilities to just be children today. I lamented on the thought that these young boys could not see a life beyond the bullet that would help them realize their lost dreams. I searched for someone to blame for their disillusionment wrapped in the woeful excitement of their descriptive deadly tête-à-tête. Could I blame it on poor parenting, an absent father, a lack of recreational opportunities, the system, the White Man, unequal access to educational opportunities, sold out Black folks, yadda, yadda, yadda?

As I wallowed in belligerent thoughts about the kids’ discussion, I kept going back to wondering who was responsible for stomping on their dreams, hopes and future. There are just so many variables to consider here. But when you undermine and subvert efforts for a Boys & Girls Club on multiple occasions, pour more money into parks and empty buildings than you do people and communities, and your patented response to everything that could make a difference is “We don’t have the money for that,” please don’t feign shock, surprise and righteous indignation when these young shooters try to live out their warped dreams inside a college gym. It’s no different than you spitting in my face and trying to convince me it’s raining.

Over the years, I’ve visited a number of elementary and middle schools where I engaged in motivational conversations with kids. I asked them what their future plans would be after they graduated, and the majority said a career in professional sports. My next question was what if you don’t make it to that level, then what’s next? Implicit in that question, I was trying to get them to dream and think not just about a professional employment goal, but to also think about a future those kids 20 years ago were not taught to believe in or think about. I just wanted them to dream.

What continues to hurt my heart is kids today are still unable to dream and imagine a bright future filled with success. Case in point are incidents like the Catawba College shooting and continuous gun violence. I dreamed as a child and mine were in color, 3D and beautifully remarkable. I knew I wanted to be in journalism in the seventh grade, dreamed I would marry Thelma from Good Times and play for the Dallas Cowboys. Does all of that sound silly and weirdly absurd? Well, it should. That’s what a 12-year-old boy should be thinking and dreaming about, not preparations for after their untimely demise.

Kenneth L. (Kenny) Hardin is a former City Councilman, and a member of the National Association of Black Journalists. He can be reached at