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April 9, 2019

Carl Taylor: We still have work to do

April 10, 2019

Carl Taylor is a professor in the Department of Sociology in the College of Social Science. He was recently rewarded the MSU Community Engagement Scholarship Lifetime Achievement Award for his work reducing American youth violence. His following reflection on his work is repurposed from an interview with WKAR, which can be found here.

In the beginning of my career, my work focused on urban America and, in particular, Detroit. It started with my looking at urban locations and urban schools and the social injustices which shaped them, as well as the movement for social justice which was created from them.

Today, I continue to study urban youth culture and the factors that contribute to it to learn how we can prevent future violence and crime. However, when it comes to addressing these problems within our society, there's a lot of work that needs to be done. For example, we're now looking at the very extreme dissolution of public education. We're looking at the loss of employment and the introduction of artificial intelligence. Lastly, and, most importantly, I think we are looking at the disintegration of the American family in different communities and, in particular, the black community.

So how do we move forward? Well, my first idea is to work one-on-one with families, and not just urban families because it's not only an urban issue. People and families in rural communities are seeing very tough times, too, and they are just as much a part of our American family as well. Families are ultimately the foundation for everything else.

I also want to see America develop more unity, because right now, it seems we're afraid of each other. But we don’t need to be — we can agree to disagree. We don't have to hate each other because we don't agree on something. Public education is important to achieving this goal, but we have to remember that public education goes beyond the bricks and mortar. Public education is in our spiritual faith-based institutions, and it is also the atmosphere that we create.

Tied closely with education is job availability. As far as American jobs go, you know the old saying: Do I teach you to fish or do I give you a fish? I think it’s better to teach people to fish so that they can get their own. However, we have to be creating meaningful jobs for people, and education for their jobs is critical. An understanding of technology is also important for the current job market. But then the question arises: How far do we go with the technology? The increase in the use of technology is extremely concerning to me.

As a professor, one of my major protests is, as a society, we don't read newspapers anymore. How we get our information has changed, and I think that's hurt us tremendously. I see it in the students. We used to have more contact one-on-one, or even collectively, with human beings, but now we have more interaction with technology — especially phones. Students don't read anymore, which drives me nuts because I love books.

Lastly, I think it is important that we as a country begin taking mental health seriously. I talked to a young woman recently whose brother just had a heart attack and passed away. I desperately wanted to get her some good mental health support, as I knew that her financial circumstances could easily bar her from receiving resources. And that's something that we don't talk about enough — Americans still don't put money into mental health.

As a society, we should be past calling people “crazy” and taking this issue seriously. Mental health is as important as physical health. They go hand-in-hand. So, we need to support and help folks who are going through tough times and struggling with their mental wellness.

However, I’m still optimistic about the future. I've had enough experience with being pessimistic to know that is not the answer. I think we need to just be a lot more mindful of humanity.