PLEASANTVILLE - Rev. James Brown spends his weekdays during the school year inside his windowless office at the high school here as a school psychologist making sure students' educational programs fit their needs, so that they can graduate.
As a black man living in Atlantic County for the past 30 years, he has seen major progress made in southern New Jersey.
Rev. Brown, of the Second Baptist Church in Atlantic City, has seen Atlantic City elect its first black mayor, James L. Usry from 1984 to 1990, and also has seen the election of current Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford, who is also black. He also has seen the casinos be a positive economic game-changer for some blacks.
"Systemically, the system can't do what it used do," Brown said.
But from Brown's vantage point from being in the schools and in the churches, he sees that modern society has devalued some of the things held in the highest esteem in the past.
Morals, church, family and knowing right from wrong has been deemphasized in place of commercialism and peers, Brown said.
Brown has sat in his office and worked with children. He has watched and saw how what he had to say about what was best for them penetrated their thinking, but sometimes, they reply, "I feel you, but I don't know how to."
"They watch BET, and they watch the rapper. They see that, and they think being a man is about that or playing ball. You will get trained or conditioned towards your identity by BET or what you watch on television," Brown said. "In terms of culture, we have to fight this culture that is telling us what out values are."
Brown believes the current situation for blacks will begin to improve when the focus returns again to parents and on homes.
"I truly believe the churches, the education districts, we need to come together and be open... We must come together and start working on building homes that grow flowers," said Brown, who added the home must be strong to deal with the different needs of boys and girls.