Hip-hop materialism, 12/17

Published December 17, 2006

Our future is in our past Dec. 10, Bill Maxwell's column

There is not enough paper for me to comment on Bill Maxwell's feelings of being "a dispensable black pawn" in his article on the possible resegregation of schools, so I'll limit my letter to one statement.

Maxwell feels that the young people of the hip-hop nation are saying no to virtually "all that is white and all that is American." Anybody who has ever spent any time around the hip-hop movement knows that this genre is driven by material possessions that have their root in Western culture and materialism. Hip-hop lyrics promote the acquisition of mansions, fine jewelry and luxury items. Hip-hop stars own huge estates, Ferraris, expensive art and tons of the finest bling.

Maybe Bill Maxwell could come by the local high school and listen in on the conversation. There is almost nothing quite as disturbing as listening to a youngster who can barely read describe the color and model of Bentley he hopes to soon have parked outside his crib.

Anita Scott, St. Petersburg

Message to Islam Dec. 11. letter

Victimizing Muslims

Muslims across the world have condemned terrorism again and again, and they are in the forefront when it comes to the war against terrorism.

They are also the prime victims of terrorism. But for the past several years, they have witnessed how their religion was insulted by the media and by other religious groups. I have never seen any Muslim insulting Jesus Christ or Moses. Yet, almost on daily, the prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) is insulted.

I think it is time that good Christians should stand up with Muslims not only in denouncing terrorism but also in denouncing the war and hatred against Islam.

Sameer Gul, Plant City

Islamic madness

After looking at last Sunday's picture of the Iranian firing squad executing those men (A generation later, "Anonymous" has a name), I said to myself, if I ever hear another person say Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance, I will scream!

From the ayatollahs to the mullahs, Islam is infested with radical religious leaders throughout the world, even here in the United States. The mastermind of the first World Trade Center bombing was Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman. The religious leader came to America and preached his hatred toward the West. Not one Muslim ever berated him for his extremist views.

The point is that Muslims are incapable of purging their religion of leaders who inspire hate and intolerance. Some 1,000 Muslim clerics denounced the pope for speaking the truth. Yet no Muslim religious leader will speak up about the genocide taking place in the Sudan by Arabs. Where are the good Muslims? When are they going to take a stand?

John Zito, Dover

A drug sentence without justice Dec. 10, editorial

Hoping for a pardon

My family has been saddened by this decision. It came as a surprise; on many fronts, our case was extremely strong. The court didn't respond to the multiple points raised in our appeal, which on their own, should have gotten us a new trial.

That's when we knew this court would affirm the imprisonment of my husband. Thank God for the Judge James Seals! He has a soul and so does an army of Floridians and people from across this country who have contacted Jeb Bush's office to ask for Rich Paey to be pardoned! We have been heartened by the enormous response. Thank you all. Keep up the prayers. I remain hopeful.

Linda Paey, Hudson

The in-depth coverage of ninth-graders at risk was riveting reading. I read every discouraging word. As a former adviser to a juvenile court in Kentucky, I can confirm the authenticity of your reporting.

The lives of these at-risk students are at once mind-boggling and heart-rending. The irony is that in a time when the president and Congress have set a national goal of "no child left behind," more and more students are being left behind. As with other national priorities, we seem to lack the resolve or the willingness to commit the resources to win this battle at home. We are sacrificing not only young human lives but also the economic promise of our nation and the survival of our precious democracy as well.

Thomas Jefferson said, "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."

These ninth-graders are not the only ones at risk. Their being at risk today indicates a risky future for all of us.

Fr. Dan Kreutzer, director, Department of Spiritual/Pastoral Care, St. Joseph Hospitals, Tampa

Ninth or never Dec. 10, a Times special report

Parents' help needed

As an educator I related to the teens in this report. Unfortunately, one thing is overlooked when schools are graded and teachers' salaries are based on these children's achievement. There are the same types of issues with children in elementary school. These kids have younger siblings who are going through the same things in their home lives.

We as teachers did not raise these children and have no control over what happens when they leave us each day. We can't make these parents help the kids with their homework or learn to read or even make sure they feed them.

We wouldn't be in this profession if we didn't genuinely care about the children who come through our classes. (The pay and professional respect definitely aren't what keep us coming back year after year.) Somehow we have to make parents hold some of the responsibility for their children's success or failure. Teachers can only do so much alone.

Carolyn Vorse, New Port Richey

Ninth or never Dec. 10, a Times special report

Teachers' travail

Thanks for chronicling the lives of four high school freshmen. Although it was a bit long, it gave a snapshot of what most classroom teachers are dealing with daily. Now multiply these four students over and over and the picture becomes quite clear. As teachers, we get what we get and try to make the best of it, doing the best we can. But we are asked to turn water into wine.

Close the achievement gap! That group that's campaigning to have Pinellas County schools be accountable for not adequately teaching black children (Concerned Organizations for Quality Education for Black Students) should first be casting stones in the community. Parenting and education start at home. And Pinellas County schools should be embarrassed. How does a child who does not know basic multiplication wind up in high school? Socially promoting students is not the answer, but it continues to this day.

Accountability is like a hot potato, and it always lands on the classroom teacher, the one in the trenches teaching, counseling, mentoring. But, oh yeah, get these kids to pass the FCAT or else! As I said earlier, we get what we get!

E. Melvin, St. Petersburg

Ninth or never

Look at positives, too

If I were not the parent of two teenage boys, I would be very worried about the future of our youth as described in your special report. The teenagers that I see get good grades, go to school daily and are involved in sports, band, volunteer work and church. These are not "perfect children" growing up in "perfect families," but they are motivated to do their best, don't use drugs, don't into fights or get in trouble at school.

The media sometimes focus on the negative, and I would like for our community teens to have sections of the newspaper devoted to positive role models.

Marcia Izzo, Clearwater

Ninth or never

High school heroes

As a teacher at Northeast High School and one who spoke with your reporter and photographer, I eagerly awaited this special report and was saddened by the perspective you chose to share, putting most of the focus on our students who were not academically successful rather than on those who were.

Tragically, the lives of the students you chose to focus on are not unique. One of the recurring themes that your reporter and I discussed was how students at Northeast, many who must overcome what to most would be insurmountable odds, are true survivors. While we can't choose where their journey begins, we try to assist them in finding solid footing along the way.

There is a newly developed ninth-grade center that works to build class identity, school spirit and self-esteem while at the same time trying to ensure that our new ninth-graders are equipped to handle the rigors of high school.

We encourage them to focus on their future through some of the programs we offer. The Academy of Finance provides students with the opportunity to acquire firsthand knowledge of business and monetary systems. We have a culinary arts program that produces gold- medal finalists in county and state competitions each year, and an Academy of Information and Technology. This article offered no hope and very little insight as to how a ninth-grader, coming from difficult circumstances, can gain control of his or her life. Yet each day, students with stories similar to those of Ronnie and John and Marquetta wake up, come to school and try to change the direction of their lives. They refuse to be victims, and these are the heroes of Northeast High School.

Their stories may not sell newspapers, but they are the role models who should be showcased, not only for the grit and determination that they demonstrate, but also because of what we can all learn from their accomplishments.

Michelle Dudley, St. Petersburg