The American Dream
Doing the Right Thing Pays Off
First published July 1996
Recently I performed a ritual that parents, who have been blessed with the luxury, the joy and the wonderment of holding their children's children, have enjoyed since the dawn of humankind. I traveled across the fruited plains of Kansas on a pilgrimage to behold my firstborn grandson.
Rayce Ricardo Denton II isn't my first grandbaby. No, sir. That honor belongs to his cousin Olivia Christine Hamblin, who came to us like a gift from heaven five years ago.
To be honest, after sixty months of doting over a little girl -- whom I cuddled when she was just forty-five minutes old -- I was curious whether my new grandson would rip and tug at my heartstrings the way Olivia had.
Don't get me wrong about little Rayce. I was definitely overflowing with joy and pride when the news of his birth reached me by cellular telephone. I remember the exact moment. It was about 4:45 in the afternoon of May 31, and I was stuck in southbound traffic on I-25 in Denver.
My phone rang, and at the other end of the line was Grandma Sue announcing to me that it was a boy. We had a grandson. I was so delighted after her call that I punched the "end" button, rolled down the window on the passenger side of my car and announced the arrival of my grandson to the first face that came into view in the traffic.
The face belonged to a white guy about thirty-five or forty years old driving a service truck. He looked hot and cranky from trying to stretch his neck long enough to see what the traffic delay was all about.
"Hey," I shouted.
He threw an impatient look to me, as he took another draw on his cigarette.
"It's a boy," I said.
"What?" the trucker said, irritably.
"It's a boy. My wife just called to say I've got a new grandson?
In that moment, without any hesitation, the expression on his face changed from one of a man trapped in slow-moving Colorado traffic to one that appeared to send nothing but great joy and happiness for me.
He flashed a wide smile my way, followed by a supportive thumbs-up.
"That's great, buddy. That's really great. Good luck with him."
"Thanks," I said. And the enchanted moment that two strangers happened to share because of the birth of a baby -- my grandson -- became a pleasant imprint as we went about our separate ways.
Before long, Grandma Sue and I were headed east across the eternal plains of Kansas. During the long ride, my head was filled with a million pointless questions.
Would I like him?
Of course, you'll like him, I answered myself.
You're going to love him and you know it.
Grandma and Grandpa live in Colorado and he's way across the country in Missouri, I thought. What's that going to be like? Will we really get to know each other? Or will our relationship become one of the millions of long-distance telephone relationships that I've heard so many other grandparents bemoan.
Needless to say, in that nine-hour motorcar trip from Denver to Kansas City, I did a lot of thinking about my grandson. I thought about stocks and other financial investments I would make for him as a means to secure his financial future.
I wondered whether he would follow in the hardworking, talented footsteps of my daughter, his mother, who had scrapped her way to a television anchor position Kansas City.
I wondered whether he would be a sports geek like his dad.
Finally on Saturday morning, after a short night's sleep in Salina, Kansas, the nose of our car turned in to the baby's driveway. Grandma reached over and honked the horn excitedly. As if on cue, a door in the garage opened, and there he was -- no bigger than a ten-pound bag of sugar, swaddled in his father's arms.
Hugs and kisses were exchanged and finally I was introduced to little Rayce. He squirmed in my arms, and as he did so, the pride of being his grandpa washed over me like a tidal wave.
I felt like he was my ultimate reward for being brave and not yielding to the misfortune and dead end of poverty, for not buckling and giving up on the belief that I and my children had an inherent right to the American Dream.
Today, I have two rewards for doing the right thing in my two grandbabies -- one from a son and the other from a daughter, neither of whom ever wavered from following their father's advice to chase ideals founded in pride, character and self-respect.
Doing the right thing has paid off for me, and it's paid off for them. And as I held my grandson for the first time, I knew without a doubt that those principles would pay off for him too.
Pick a Better Country
First published July 1996
I've taken a lot of criticism from affirmative-action-and-quota-prone blacks because of my deeply held beliefs about the merits of the American Dream.
What's amazing to me is why I'm chastised for believing in a dream that promises that any man -- no matter his color -- who works diligently and stays the course of right instead of wrong is destined eventually to prevail. That dream certainly beats the alternative of facing a lifetime of wretched poverty and dependency on the kindness of strangers and the dole.
Perhaps I've given more thought than usual these days to the benefits of the American Dream and what it promises, because of late I've been buffeted by an assortment of modern-day pseudo-black revolutionaries calling my radio show to denounce me for escaping the ghetto and prospering like a lot of other mainstream Americans.
Sometimes the voices of my detractors haunt me at night just before I drift off to sleep.
"No, you ain't right. You is ah Uncle Tom."
"You don't believe in nothing, except the money the white man is paying you to run the brothers down."
The best denunciation of them all is: "You ain't black no mo'. You done forgot where you come from."
It's remarkable once you've decided not to be any man's nigger how easy it is to muster your pride and your self-respect in the face of such criticism. I think about that a lot at night when I'm in bed, the house is still and the only sound I hear is the wind rustling through the pine trees.
About that time, I feel a smile creeping across my face. Then I'm able to turn off the voices in my head, because I'm reassured, as I approach the final third of my life, that I have made the right choices.
Choices that catapulted me away from the mean streets of Brooklyn, New York, where I grew up. Decisions that ultimately meant that my children and my children's children wouldn't live in a world where they were overcome by the culture of bottom-feeding black trash. I know that whatever they become, I fought the good fight so they too saw that they had choices.
Like other successful men and women, I doubt whether it ever will be possible for me to forget my roots or my road traveled, as my critics claim I have. I will always be aware of just how far both America and I have come in my lifetime.
After my own life of struggle and the difficulty I and others faced to forge the America of opportunity for all that we know today, I find it quite paradoxical to be denounced by the new wave of politically correct hyphenated African-Americans.
If, as they contend, the U.S. is a doomed nation, I think she is doomed because she suffers from a mega-dose of forgetfulness concerning her rich historical past. Too many have forgotten the opportunity she has always provided for all -- albeit an opportunity for change during her ugliest days of racism and hatefulness.
Pick a better country.
Name a greater nation where people of color, who still today have little hope or opportunity in their native land, can get a better opportunity to be all that they can be. I defy you.
It definitely wouldn't be on the African continent, where in countries like Mauritania in the northwest portion of the continent, black Africans still today are being captured and sold as slaves.
The opportunities this new generation of African-Americans turn away from in the States can't be found in Kenya either, where a rapid expansion of the population and a shortage of welfare programs -- as ghetto blacks in the U.S. know them -- have put a strain on limited health facilities and social services in that black nation.
Nor would it be in Zimbabwe, where 70 percent of the black African population -- the population so romanticized by African-Americans -- struggles to scratch out a meager living.
Nope. When you get right down to it, the good old U.S. of A. -- warts and all -- remains the best place on earth as far as this American is concerned. If you work hard for a better opportunity for yourself and your children, you can't do better than America.
And I, for one, think it's amazing how many minorities denounce that basic truth every day God chooses to splash his benevolent grace across our land.
The Liberals Wage War on Capitalism
First published February 1995
There is a grand myth concerning the integrity of all minimum-wage workers which is being fostered by socialist Democrats eager to worm their way back into the hearts of the American people.
The myth is that every minimum-wage employee hired punches the employer's time clock tan, fit and ready to work.
The scenario suggests that while this unassuming proletariat shows up with the strongest of work ethics, fully eager to deliver an honorable day of work, the minimum wage of $4.25 an hour smacks of exploitation by their capitalist employers.
If only that tale were factual.
As the co-owner of two gourmet sandwich shops in predominantly white, middle-class localities in Colorado, my wife and I have learned from firsthand experience just how inept, surly and, in some instances, totally worthless some entry-level minimum-wage employees are.
They are a far cry from the president's depiction of them as poor underpaid workers struggling in desperation to pull themselves up the ladder of affluence.
Our experience, and the experience of many small-business owners we meet, is one of hiring young people -- and in some cases older workers -- who simply don't want to work. They consider it an imposition if our managers ask them to clean or prep for the next day during slow periods. They treat customers as interruptions in their social time with other like-minded workers.
And they never grasp -- though we tell them over and over -- that the slightest sign of interest they might show in their job would mean an almost immediate increase in their starting minimum wage.
Meanwhile, Clinton and the Democratic rabble defeated in the 1994 "November Revolution" are searching for a way to fill in the moat they have dug between themselves and the American people.
So they have created the fantasy that the minimum wage should be increased to a level that would allow every employee, no matter his or her commitment, to raise a family and make a down payment on a little bungalow.
Well, most of us know that success in the American scenario doesn't work like that.
It's clear to me, and maybe that's why I'm a success, that the entry-level salary was never meant to be a stopping point. Rather, it was a launch pad from which to begin the journey to a higher wage -- ultimately a wage that would afford me and my family access to the American Dream.
Think about your own first job. Mine paid $1.25 an hour. I couldn't join the middle class on that salary.
But my wife and I worked. We saved. I moved to a higher-paying job after I could claim "experience" on my job application.
And after a while, I found I could compete for yet a higher-paying job that got me well on the road to fulfilling my ambitions. I could legitimately demand, because of my worth to the employer, higher pay.
That's the same system of supply and demand for good workers that is at work today.
As a matter of fact, competition in the marketplace, not a government minimum, determines what the entry-level wage is in many areas today.
For example, the opening salary for an inexperienced employee at one of my sandwich shops is $6 an hour. That figure wasn't established by the government or by unions. The businesses in the area didn't get together and agree to pay almost $2 higher than the minimum wage out of the goodness of our hearts.
That starting wage was determined by the relatively small size of the entry-level labor pool in that particular region -- a traditional capitalist concept of supply and demand.
But none of these real-world facts matter when you are trying to ignite class warfare or fuel a war against capitalism -- against too much prosperity -- as I believe the White House is.
America is a country where the work ethic still pays off, eventually.
Old-fashioned values like not getting pregnant in your teens, studying diligently to get an education and developing a salable skill are the real keys to economic success in our American system -- not a guaranteed house payment your first day on the job.
You Can Give a Man a House, but Not a Home
First published September 1996
A socialist government may be able to give a man or a woman a house, but it cannot transform that house into a home.
Homes are the stuff of dreams and youthful ambition. They are the illusions of optimistic young people aspiring -- sometimes against the odds -- to a bright future.
I have repeated my house-and-home distinction on dozens of occasions while trying to address America's socialist political faction that is seeking to level the playing field by attempting to legislate and subsidize personal success.
My directness on this seemingly obvious truth has not afforded me much popularity among the petty politicos -- many of whom I classify as poverty pimps. Perhaps it is because they are intent on peddling the notion to their constituents that America should guarantee success for any and all.
Why are some people poor? Why do some manage to claw their way out of the worst kind of deprivation, while others go with the flow like dead fish? What makes some men and women eternal losers, while others remain determined to struggle to their last breath?
Those may well be the $64,000 questions of my generation.
But if I am certain of anything at all, it is that billions of American taxpayer dollars have been consumed seeking these answers with little success.
Perhaps that's why I took special notice when I happened across an article recently concerning the efforts of media mogul Oprah Winfrey to achieve that which the collective wealth of American taxpayers has failed to accomplish -- the demise of poverty in America, particularly in black America.
According to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, Winfrey decided to tackle poverty head-on in 1994.
During a Chicago press conference that winter more than two years ago, Winfrey announced that she would "finance a program to move a hundred families out of public housing, off public aid and into better lives."
The program was designed to exclude drug users, alcoholics and those who lacked motivation.
A remarkable plan, indeed. Possibly Winfrey was motivated by, perhaps even feeling a bit guilty about, the fact that America had given her so much while others had been given so little.
Whatever. According to the article in the Tribune, Winfrey committed a portion of her own sizable fortune to the program, lovingly tagged "Families for a Better Life."
The Chicago Tribune, in a lofty editorialization, noted that no other program had a better chance to succeed than this one.
Well, no matter how noble Winfrey's goal and despite two years of screening and $1.3 million ($843,000 contributed by Winfrey), the program has ended up a miserable flop.
Because of the fundamental truth that dreams are born in the hearts of men and women. They cannot be constructed by a charitable hand where none exists.
Only five of the one hundred families managed to complete the program, and at least one of those still receives public aid.
The officials administering the program told the Tribune: "The original plan of putting 100 families through the program was too ambitious."
Furthermore, they noted something that I have always said, that the welfare mentality -- the belief that poor people are simply victims of society and thus entitled to restitution from society -- remained a formidable obstacle to the program's success.
"We had to keep emphasizing that this is not about what you get. This is about what you do," the program officials told the Tribune.
Has Oprah Winfrey learned that no amount of money can implant desire where none exists? One would hope so, but I doubt it.
Welfare Snuffs Out Survival Skills
First published March 1996
Like the unfolding of an airtight murder case, evidence continues to mount against the socialist policies of the liberal Democrats.
Despite the repeated failures of the welfare state promoted in the name of their lofty socialist notions, these liberals are unwavering in their insistence that the quality of people's lives is enriched when the government assumes responsibility for them.
But case after case shows otherwise.
A pathetic example is embodied in a New York Times report about the results of a study concerning the impact of public assistance on 790 Atlanta-area welfare families. The study was conducted by Child Trends Inc., a nonprofit research group working for the Department of Health and Human Services.
The children in the study group were between three and five years old, and almost all of them were black. Test results concluded that these children were likely to have trouble when they started school.
According to the Times, the study revealed that "On average, the children...correctly answered only slightly more than half the questions in a test of concepts and skills -- such as shapes, colors and understanding relationships like 'under' or 'behind' -- needed for school readiness."
As I would have predicted, these welfare babies of ghetto mothers scored lower on vocabulary tests than did a national sample of black children.
Even though the study indicated that the longer a family stayed on welfare, the lower the children tested, some liberal-minded pundits who responded in the article to the study refused to address these data as a clear measure of the obvious negative effects of welfare.
Instead, people like Nancy Ebb, senior staff lawyer for the Washington-based Children's Defense Fund, used the test results as ammunition to argue that higher-quality child care be made available to welfare families. In essence, calling for more welfare, more of the same.
I grew up on the dole. And I contend, from firsthand experience, that it is impossible to live on welfare for years at a time without losing your drive and your ambition. Welfare makes it impossible to provide cognitive stimulation and emotional support to children, the kind of support the study showed was lacking in these welfare families.
Even when I was growing up on welfare forty to fifty years ago in New York, there were poor people around me, conditioned by welfare, who always had a lot of reasons why it was irrational for me to even think about trying to compete outside the boundaries of the ghetto.
The human brain may be designed with an inherent thirst for knowledge, experience and information, but I'm convinced we deaden that brain activity when we have a guarantee of survival tied to a regular welfare check.
I view the people subject to today's liberal folly of welfare as robots -- people living a mechanical existence, lost souls mandated by their liberal lords to dwell eternally in ignorance brought about by a lack of stimulation and, thus, drive.
Today I see American ghettos full of such people, languishing in the shadow of society, never daring to reach for the fruits of success that are available to everyone in America.
By continuing to offer up constantly improved government assistance by way of more conveniently delivered welfare checks and broader and better social programs, the liberals have managed to all but snuff out the basic survival skills in poor people. They have deadened even the survival instincts they need to pass on to their children.
But despite all the visible shortcomings of the expanding welfare state, the liberal socialists continue shamelessly to ignore the facts and promote the supposed benefits.
I have said it in the past, and I'll say it again. The only compassionate way to save the poor children in America -- whether they are black, Hispanic or white -- is to kill the American welfare system as we know it. Shoot it squarely between the eyes.
Lower Taxes, Less Government, and Reinvestment in the American Dream
First published September 1996
I received a letter from a woman who chose to take issue with my stance that the individual, and not the government, is ultimately responsible for nurturing his or her own dreams, for mustering the courage to reach for the stars.
By this woman's logic: "A person needs to have time available in order to dream and help to make that dream come true.
"Many people are so busy just trying to survive that they never have the time or energy to dream. These people work full-time at one or two or maybe even three jobs just to get enough money to provide the basic essentials for themselves and their families. Any time left over is spent taking care of those families."
After reading her words -- words in total opposition to everything I have ever been taught or encouraged to believe in -- I concluded that they were spoken like a true liberal social worker. They contained all the common traits of the liberal socialist ideal.
They dampened the ambition that most of us Americans like to think is second nature to the American spirit.
I marveled at the defeatism imparted in her words because although I grew up poor, raised by women on public assistance in a household where every day was a fight to survive, the ideal of "yes, you can do it" was deeply implanted in me.
Learning responsibility and how to do for myself wasn't overshadowed by an intellectual philosophy that deemed the government morally obligated to care for me.
It was a hard lesson about life. Taking responsibility for yourself is tough, and doubly so if you are poor. But maybe that's why and how I managed to survive. I saw poverty as the ordeal I had to overcome, and the only resources available to help me do it were my own inner resources and energy.
Success, however long it took to come, was marked by breaking away from one's reliance on the government, not by becoming further dependent upon it.
As a result of my own experience, I am seldom shy when it concerns pressing my point that I am bullish on America. I talk about the ideals and principles of this great country every day on my syndicated radio show. I wrote a book entitled Pick a Better Country.
In spite of her shortcomings and her blatant warts, the United States is still the best bet when it comes to dreaming about building a future for your family.
In her letter, my critic told me about her dream of someday working with computers. She noted that it would take several years to achieve her goal, and that she spent one entire year taking a college course, thanks to funds from the government.
She concluded: "Dreams are such fragile things. They also often take a lot of time to achieve."
What she failed to note, however, is that no matter how noble one's dreams may be, their fulfillment isn't guaranteed anywhere on God's earth. And despite all of the socialist nonsense frequently spouted by liberals, success isn't, nor should it be, guaranteed in the United States either.
By this woman's logic, however, everything -- from a demand for self-reliance to welfare reform -- is part of a dastardly capitalist plot "for large corporations to make money administering the new programs while taking money from poor people who need help to achieve their dreams."
I'm curious. Where and when did the poor and their spokespersons garner the authority to lay claim to more of the working man's income?
Approximately 54 cents of every dollar earned in the United States today is gobbled up by state and federal tax collectors, and apparently that still isn't enough to comfort, educate and nurture the dreams of the poor.
In closing her letter to me, my nemesis said: "Poor people may have a welfare mentality but rich people and large corporations also have the same welfare mentality that the government owes them and they are constantly trying to get more and more government money."
Could it be that the rich man's welfare she is sensing is really a growing demand from working people for lower taxes, less government and a reinvestment in the American Dream?
America Offers Lots of Safe Landings Beyond Welfare
First published February 1995
I have been thinking about how avoiding the pitfalls of poverty and piloting a single-engine airplane over the Rocky Mountains have a lot in common.
For one thing, it's always a good idea for a pilot traversing the craggy peaks of the mountains to keep both eyes peeled for a safe spot to put down in the event of an unscheduled emergency landing.
Just as a pilot flying high above a potentially hostile environment should be prepared for an emergency landing, I believe people should devise a strategy to help them survive in case an economic emergency should occur.
For instance, have you ever considered how you would support yourself if no one would hire you and you had to create your own gainful employment?
Could you create a job for yourself in today's society? Or would you, like so many others, wallow in your distress and eventually end up on the public dole?
How would you survive an unexpected economic catastrophe like the death of the breadwinner in your family?
Having begun my life in grinding poverty, I ponder questions like those all the time.
I still have the 35mm cameras I used as a professional photojournalist in the 1960s. I keep them as sort of a safety net tucked away under my bed -- as a hedge between me and the humbling chill of poverty.
The way I figure it, no matter what the future brings, as long as I have those cameras, I'll always be able to support myself. If necessary, I could market my photographic skills, make a living shooting pictures of babies or weddings.
What, you ask, if I were forced even to sell or pawn my Nikon and Leica cameras?
According to wisdom attributed to Jonathan Swift, "Necessity is the mother of invention."
It's obvious that like a hunter in the forest, I would have to become very imaginative very quickly if I expected to become an effective forager in our twentieth-century high-tech and service-oriented workplace.
I'm convinced, though, that if you are willing to work hard, there are jobs you could invent to earn an honest living and avoid living off welfare.
If you have a valid driver's license, I'll bet you could market your services to a world of people who detest taking their cars to the auto dealership for service to comply with the terms of the warranty.
I know how much people hate it, because I'm one of them. I'd be willing to pay a reasonable fee -- say thirty bucks -- for a dependable person to pick up and deliver my vehicle back to my office or my home.
There must be virtually dozens of services like that one that I'll bet working folks would be willing to hire reliable people to do. And a lot more services homebound folks would hire out.
Except in big cities like Los Angeles and New York, I bet there aren't enough people offering dog-walking services. And there's always a need for people willing to clean homes and offices.
If those jobs don't meet your fancy, or aptitude, how about a gourmet grocery service for folks too busy to shop? How about distributing fresh flowers regularly to the homes and offices in your area?
Trust me, every community has an overworked handyman. Maybe he needs an apprentice.
If you've ever tried to hire the services of a plumber, an electrician or a specialty repairman, you know it's practically impossible to get a quick response to your desperate call.
The chaos in those kinds of small businesses might also represent an employment opportunity.
With a little inventiveness, you might sell the overworked furnace repairman or the disorganized plumber on the notion that you could be the greatest appointment scheduler -- not just another answering service.
Think about it. It could be a great little white-collar job, and you could work at home.
Once you put your mind to work, you'll find all it takes is a little initiative and the guts to sell yourself to land safely in an unscheduled emergency.
The best part is that no matter how hard you end up working, it's infinitely better than giving in to subsisting on the dole.
Three Young American Men
First published August 1994
While I was dining with a friend, the conversation turned to the lack of ambition among some people today and the plight of the homeless.
We concluded that being homeless today is a condition worn by many like a badge of honor.
In fact, being poor in America these days is even considered to be politically righteous, while the pursuit of economic: security is sneered at by many liberals.
My buddy, the father of two boys, said something that I think was right on target:
"I remind my boys that poverty and wealth represent two opposing extremes of the social spectrum, and that you have to work very hard to reach either of them. For instance, you can work hard to get an A, or you can work just as hard to get an F in school."
Affluence, according to him, represents one extreme and poverty the other. When you consider the broad base of people in the middle class, a person has to work awfully hard to reach the top or to scrape bottom.
The scenario of three young men I know who once worked together in a Denver cinema came to mind.
The jobs they had in the theater were entry-level, low on the skill and pay scale. They all were smart enough to realize that making a career working there wasn't ever going to lead to a fulfilling future.
Consequently, two of them quit and enrolled in college, one after a stint in the U.S. Navy. The third quit too, but he sat on his tush waiting for opportunity to sneak up on him.
Today one of those men is the successful CEO of a thriving national corporation that recently went public. The second went to law school when he got out of the Navy and today is a successful corporate lawyer.
The third young man -- while waiting for opportunity to reach out for him -- tumbled far beyond the reach of his two prosperous friends and all of their endeavors to reach him.
Why couldn't they save him? There are probably many reasons.
I think the primary ingredient in the third man's recipe for failure was his own lack of a desire to succeed and a poor work ethic founded on the idea that whatever he wanted eventually would drift his way if he waited long enough.
I know a lot of people who think like that. They bemoan the fact that life hasn't been kind to them, and eventually many of them become destitute and homeless.
But the fact is, over the years, the third young man has worked just as hard to wallow in his misery based on his hard luck as the first
Plain Talk and Common Sense From the Black Avenger
Ken Hamblin is one of the most popular radio talk-show hosts in America, with a daily audience of millions. He is also a prolific writer: His column appears in The Denver Post and is nationally syndicated. In Plain Talk and Common Sense from the Black Avenger, Hamblin has collected his best pieces. From personalities like Bill Clinton, O.J. Simpson and Monica Lewinsky to issues like affirmative action, gun control, crime and capital punishment, Hamblin, author of Pick a Better Country, brings his unique, clear-eyed logic and at times firebrand vision to the problems and situations that arise on our landscape. Whether he is speculating on how feminism might have created a Monica Lewinsky or taking unusual stances against most conservative thinkers' views, what Hamblin brings out most poignantly is a brash belief in America -- a patriot's belief that the dream is alive and well, though at times under assault from both ends of the spectrum.