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Equal time for the good deeds

BLACK Americans make headlines when they are accused of crime, achieve fame and fortune in sports and entertainment, or when high-achievers criticize low-achievers, as comedian Bill Cosby recently did.

By those commonly accepted news standards, the Timothy Smith Technology Center and everyone who made it happen do not merit attention. But, on the outside chance the standards could be wrong, here is some information about the 58 computers, including 20 new wireless computers, now available for community use at the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts at 88 Warren St. in Roxbury.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Urban League President and CEO Darnell L. Williams presided over the ribboncutting on May 19. Media coverage was not what it would have been had there been a shooting to cover at Dudley Square.

Funding for the center comes from a combination of private and public donors. It is named for Timothy Smith, a merchant who lived in Roxbury most of his life. When he and his wife, Mary Ellen, both died in 1918, their will specified that the proceeds of their bequest be utilized to benefit the highest number of residents of the old City of Roxbury. In 1996, The Timothy Smith Fund for "Old Roxbury" was established to spread the benefits of computer technology. Grants have so far enabled 39 agencies to establish and equip their centers with state-of-the-art computers and equipment.

In truth, a technology center is nice but ultimately meaningless unless people use it. Even if residents flock to this one, public access is limited to Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 5 to 7:45 p.m. Few are similarly limited in their access to technology.

It is easy, especially for white America, to cheer Bill Cosby when he said, "The lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal. . .. I am talking about these people who cry when their son is standing there in an orange suit. Where were you when he was 2? Where were you when was 12? Where were you when he was 18, and how come you didn't know that he had a pistol? And where is the father? People putting their clothes on backward; isn't that a sign of something gone wrong?"

Cosby's talk in Washington on May 17 at a commemoration of Brown v. Board of Education was filled with lines such as that. Most would probably be considered racist if spoken by a white person. Among them: "They are standing on the corner and they can't speak English. People used to be ashamed. . . Today a woman has eight children with eight different husbands or men or whatever you call them now. . . The idea is to one day get out of the projects. You don't just stay there. . ." Cosby also noted, accurately, "We have millionaire football players who can't read. We have million-dollar basketball players who can't write two paragraphs. . ."

We do, and that is because the country, white and black, values the ability to toss a ball more than the ability to write a poem, a book, or even a letter. Young people see what brings fame and fortune, and they look for the quickest, easiest way to achieve it. The computers at 88 Warren St. do not fall into that category.

There are many things these computers cannot do. They cannot make young people, black or white, stop using drugs. They cannot make anyone, whatever their race or ethnicity, pay attention to school instead of the latest "American Idol." They cannot stop bullets fired by teenagers from hitting other teenagers. Unless someone turns them on and uses them, they are dust-collectors and perhaps temptation for thieves. Even when put to their best use, computers cannot guarantee fame or fortune. Worst of all, there aren't enough of them to equalize the playing field between the haves and have-nots, whatever their skin color.

But they do demonstrate how the generosity of a long-ago Roxbury resident, paired with commitment from modern-day government, corporate, and community leaders, creates opportunity. It is tiny. It needs to be broadened on one side. And, from the other side, it needs to be seized. But imagine if such opportunity were highlighted, instead of being ignored in favor of the rise and fall of Kobe Bryant, the deification of Ludacris, and the turning of Bill Cosby's America against the America filled with people not as talented, lucky, and successful as he.

Neither America, by the way, is all-white or all-black.

Joan Vennochi's e-mail address is 

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