What Ferguson and Baltimore proved is that there is an unfortunate lack of real leadership in America’s black communities. Instead of leaders who can show young black men a better way and give them hope, we have a host of self-serving race hustlers who exploit them and pander to their worst instincts. To make matters worse, mainstream media outlets aid and abet the race hustlers in the interest of ratings, purposefully sensationalizing their coverage of young black men behaving badly. This, in turn, encourages more thuggish behavior and the cycle repeats itself becoming more and more violent. This, of course, is exactly what mainstream media outlets want.

Here is what economist Walter Williams says about this phenomenon: “Hustlers and people with little understanding want us to believe that today’s black problems are the continuing result of a legacy of slavery, poverty and racial discrimination. The fact is that most of the social pathology seen in poor black neighborhoods is entirely new in black history.” I agree with Dr. Williams. My view is that the problems Williams alludes to—fatherless families, illiteracy, unemployment, drugs, high dropout rates, crime, and violence—stem more from a lack of leadership than from the legacy of slavery, poverty, and racial discrimination. I say this because even if the problems associated with the black neighborhoods Williams alluded to were caused by slavery, poverty, and racial discrimination, real leaders would make sure that young black men refuse to let these causes become excuses. Success has never been built on excuses.

As a college professor, I teach students of all races. For all of my nearly 40 years in the classroom I have had young black students as well as students of all other races—many of them poor and many of them whose lives have been filled with challenges. From this experience I can state unequivocally that those who refused to view their personal circumstances as an excuse fared well and eventually pulled themselves up and out of those circumstances. Those who made excuses remained mired in their negative circumstances. Even the best, most legitimate excuse is still an excuse, and making excuses never helped anyone improve his or her life.

Looting, arson, and violence like that seen in Ferguson and Baltimore are the kinds of behavior engaged in by young black men and people of other races who want to blame someone or something else for their circumstances. In other words they are looking to make excuses instead of working to make progress. The news cameras have left Baltimore, but those who participated in the riots are still there and, now that the fun is over, they have gone back to their usual activity: killing each other. In fact, West Baltimore resembles a war zone with gangs battling over turf, drugs, and money while poor law-abiding minorities are caught in the crossfire. Now when the police are called by those caught in the crossfire, they arrive to be surrounded by threatening mobs of 30 to 40 angry young black men intent on keeping them from doing their jobs. Thanks to race hustlers such as Al Sharpton and Malik Shabaz, West Baltimore has become a war zone as dangerous to as Afghanistan.

What makes this kind of deplorable situation in America’s inner cities even worse is that liberals, Democrats, and other race hustlers are still blaming the problems that persist there—on “racist police departments” and the supposed lingering effects of slavery and Jim Crow. Listen to Barack Obama, Al Sharpton, and Malik Shabaz and you will hear how big city police departments in America need to be reformed (in spite of the fact that they tend to be minority-majority in their racial make-up). What you won’t hear from liberal race hustlers is a call for reforming those who continue to commit violent crimes in big city ghettos. A big part of the reform needed in America’s inner cities has to do with education. Education is still the key to pulling oneself up out of poverty in America, yet dropout rates of inner-city high school students are approaching 75 percent.

Apologists for what we saw in Ferguson and Baltimore agree that education is part of the solution, but they are quick to point out the substandard quality of inner-city schools. I get the issue of run down and burned out schools, but the question must be asked: Who is running these schools down and who is burning them out? If you don’t take care of your own neighborhood, who is to blame? I also know—having attended public schools that won no prizes for quality—that even a bad school is better than no school and that an education can be obtained even in a bad school if students want one.

I also know that the poorest of students can go to college now, even if that means starting out in community college which I and a lot of other poor people had to do. Financial aid is abundantly available to poor students who want to use education to escape poverty and neighborhoods that resemble war zones. Is it easy? No.   Can it be done? Yes. My younger brother and I got through college by sleeping in the school library at times and in my car at other times (the car cost $50 and wasn’t worth $10).

It should be clear to anyone who is paying attention that America is suffering from a lack of leadership in black communities. We have gone from an era in which inspirational leaders in black communities preached non-violent protest and gave their followers hope for a better life. But the days of “I have a dream” are over and the leaders who gave their followers in the black community hope have been supplanted by misleaders whose only dream is of fattening their own wallets and advancing their own political agendas. The goal of racial harmony that characterized the Civil Rights Movement has been replaced by a goal of racial discord—an essential part of the Democrats’ divide-and-conquer strategy. As a result, the poor people in America’s inner cities remain poor generation after generation and black inner-city neighborhoods continue to be torn apart by violence, drugs, crime, high dropout rates, illiteracy, and fatherless families. To make matters worse, this unfortunate situation will not change as long as race hustlers, Democrats, and the mainstream media profit from maintaining the status quo.

It is high time that America had an honest conversation about leadership in the black community. One of the characteristics of effective leaders is that they show those with whom they have influence a better way—a worthy vision for improving their lives. They influence people by appealing to their highest and best instincts—what Abraham Lincoln once called “the better angels of our nature.” Encouraging young black men to riot, loot, and violently attack police officers hardly qualifies as appealing to the “better angels” of their nature. Making excuses for the crime, drugs, high dropout rates, illiteracy, violence, and fatherless families that characterize inner-city black neighborhoods hardly qualifies as helping those whose lives are caught up in these kinds of activities. No person ever improved his life by making excuses—even if the excuses were legitimate. A legitimate excuse is still just that—an excuse and excuses help no one.

Further, trashing the character of black men and women who by dint of personal initiative, ambition, and drive overcome the debilitating effects of poverty and build successful lives for themselves hardly sends the right message to young black Americans who are still mired in poverty. Portraying the government as the solution to the soul-sapping realities of life in America’s ghettos is hardly being honest with young black men and women who want to escape those realities.  Even a cursory examination of the facts will show that the government has never lifted anyone out of poverty. On the contrary, the facts show conclusively that government assistance is like a drug that makes users dependent but does them no good and, in fact, is harmful in the long run.

Young people in America’s ghettos will win the war on poverty one way and one way only: one person at a time on the basis of individual initiative, personal responsibility, unshakable perseverance, and a determination to never make excuses. This is how poor people in America have been improving their lives since our nation’s founding, and it is the only way people will improve their lives today. America needs leaders at the grass roots level in black communities nationwide who have the vision, honesty, and courage to spread this message. Real leadership is about speaking the hard truth to those who may not want to hear it, but need to. Race hustling and making excuses are not leadership. They are pandering and exploitation, and the black community has had too much of both from Democrats, liberals, race hustlers, and other misleaders.