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April 10, 2007
Blanche Penn, executive director of the nonprofit Winners PLUS Agency, put before the Forum Tuesday her group's "Pull 'em Up" campaign. As portrayed in the T-shirt design below, the program ais to exhort young people to pull up their grades, their attitudes, their self-esteem and their knowledge.
But most of the debate Tuesday was over the propriety of linking the campaign to pulling up pants. Forum attendees who had read a recent Charlotte Observer article on the project believed that was the focus.
Some adults expressed their disgust at low-riding jeans and all they reveal. Others cited safety concerns for the young men who trip on sidewalks. Others warned against crackdowns on this form of expression.
And then there were the adults who remembered long-gone fashion trends that outraged THEIR parents. They counseled patience.
Penn, in her presentation, emphasized the message captured at right and further below: "Ain't Nothing Wrong With Your Pants Just Pull 'em Up." Penn said she wears the pants herself, but not off her waist.
“This fad has stayed around too long,” says Penn. “A lot of the children know that the pants are sagging down because of the prison. They know that. Do they care?”
The fad of wearing long T-shirts began another way, Penn said. Women had long worn their man’s shirts to bed. Designers responded, and marketed long T-shirts to women -- only to find that teens began purchasing them.
“These kids!” Penn said in mock exasperation. “Sometimes you’ve got to get to their level. And you’ve got to listen.”
One man said his grandson, an Honor Society student, got sent home from school for an untucked shirt. “We can’t have people in positions judge our children negatively because they have their pants too low or a shirt that’s not tucked in. We’ve got to help them understand that these things hurt them when they go apply for a job, but there’s nothing illegal about it and we’ve got to make sure they’re not punished for it.”
Penn said one state’s effort to fine children for wearing low-riding pants had been blocked.
“They walk like they have a stick up their butt because they’re trying to hold up their pants,” said one woman. “I have a nephew who wanted to be like everybody else. He wasn’t. He really wasn’t that kind of a kid. But he was going to try. He knew I didn’t like it, but I was gonna let him go -- it was a special occasion -- and sure enough they fell around his feet. He never tried it again.”
Penn said the youth she’s working with are excited about dropping the fad. “They’re making a rap song about pulling ’em up. They’re actually putting positive words in the song, which is talking about why they should pull them up.... We’re telling the kids, there’s a good reason why you should pull them up: Our kids need to get jobs and things of that nature.
“When we were teen-agers, we had fads and stuff. I know I used to be one of the coolest girls at West Charlotte ’cause I always tried to come out with something new, because that was my style: I didn’t want to look like nobody else.”
“Still don’t,” quipped a member of the audience. “Enough said!” Penn responded.
“I saw a guy on my street,” another man said. “Every three steps he took, he had to pull his pants up. That’s too much of a job for me.”
“I think they really would love to pull them up,” chimed in one woman. “I think they’ve got to be tired.”
“When I saw [in the paper] ‘pull ‘em up,’ I said thank you Jesus,” added one woman.
“What this reminds me of,” said one young man, “is that there was a point in time when we as African Americans were having Afros and dashikis, which were not real popular. Where do we draw the line in the community between our young kids wanting to express themselves -- because obviously eventually we had to cut our hair, get rid of the dashikis, and go to work."
“We didn’t get rid of them,” said an older woman as she stood to show off the dashiki she was wearing. “I still wear ‘em now,” a number of other women shouted. The young man backed off, but returned to his point: “When do we allow the natural progression of maturity to take place in our community versus trying to force our young kids to conform to what we think is best for them?”
“I feel the fad has been around a long time -- tooooooo long,” said Penn. She said she wore long T-shirts, and the same pants. “But we’ve got to tell the kids, that piece about showing your butt is not acceptable, period.”
Another woman stated: “Now, some of us did show too much of our butts with those hot pants and those miniskirts. But it was short-lived. I wore an Afro for four years, and then it was kinda gone. Same with the hot pants and stuff. Afros and dashikis were during that era of ‘black and proud.’ ”
“That was being viewed as radical,” the young man said. Then there was a noisy but short debate over whether such fads were acceptable in the workplace.
An older man spoke up: “I think if the children really and truly knew who in prison wore their pants that way, they’d stop, because that was a way of advertising certain things.”
“They know,” Penn replied.
“I remember when we used to be down in ‘grind-’em-up socials,” said one 60-something. “That was outrageous: The lights was down low.... Our hair, our dress, our talk -- these are things that we used to express our individuality and whatever you want.... When we put so much emphasis on [sagging pants], there are those out there who will take those things and they will judge us by it. That’s the only danger.... We need to tell the kids, be careful what you do.... I remember ‘Work With Me Annie.’ [Written by African-American blues artist Hank Ballard in 1954, “Annie” was banned from the airwaves by the FCC for suggestive language, but sold 1 million copies]. That was one of the most outrageous songs. But if that song was sung today, kids would laugh at it. But I remember when that song came out my mamma saying ‘Turn that off.’ She would have a fit....
“We’re not so much focusing on pants coming up,” Penn replied. “We do want ‘em to come up, but we want everything up.... I’m saying pull up for success. Pull up your test scores. Pull up your grades. Pull up your attitude. Pull up your self-esteem. Pull up your knowledge. Just pull ’em up. Also, this one is the one I really love: Pull up your respect for yourself, for your teacher, your parents and your community.
“So this is about all those things that we talk about all the time -- what the kids should be doing, pulling something up, know what I’m saying? The teachers talk about it all the time -- pull these test scores up, you need to pull this up, you need to pull that up. So in other words we ‘re just saying, pull these things up. We’re not going to have a bill and go out there and fine for things until they pull ’em up. The pants are just going to come along with it.... And I let the guys know, there’s nothing wrong with your pants. Just pull ’em up.”
The Forum welcomes all persons to its meetings beginning at 8 a.m. most Tuesdays of the year
at the West Charlotte Recreation Center, 2222 Kendall Drive, Charlotte, NC
down the hill from West Charlotte High School.