The Archbishop of York has urged young black people to stop blaming racism for their problems.
Dr John Sentamu warned that prisons, mental health units and young offender institutions held too many black people.
He told a new generation: ‘Your future success does not lie in guns, gangs and knives or in the worship of celebrities.’
Instead, they should ‘work hard’ and ‘stay focused’, he said.
The Ugandan-born Archbishop, second in the hierarchy of the Church of England, also criticised African nations for too readily trying to blame their former ‘colonial masters’ for their difficulties.
He pointed to African corruption and lack of democracy and warned that nations were squandering their opportunities.
Dr Sentamu has become a major figure in race relations in Britain over the past decade.
He was a highly influential member of Sir William Macpherson’s tribunal that reported into the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1998 and condemned police for ‘institutional racism’. He also headed the inquiry into the killing of Damilola Taylor on a South London estate.
And he has regularly reminded police forces about the number of times that officers have stopped him and searched him.
Dr Sentamu, who marked Black History Month with his interview, added: ‘Today our prisons and mental health units are disproportionately full of men and women from minority ethnic backgrounds.
‘Our young offenders’ units are full of young black men, many of whom under-achieved at school and thought that the only way out to earning a quick buck was by committing crime.
‘As parents and as a nation we have failed our children.’
But he told young people that they should fight prejudice and bias by challenging injustice.
‘Work hard at your education, stay focused and don’t sit around waiting for success to be delivered to you on a plate, because it won’t be. Don’t blame someone else, for you have the energy, potential and creativity so use it for the good of humankind. Don’t waste it.
‘Your future success does not lie in guns, gangs and knives or in the worship of celebrities but in the pursuit of study and hard work and in valuing who you are under God.’
The Archbishop said African nations had to cope with trade tariffs loaded in favour of Western countries and multinational companies that plundered resources from failed states.
But he added: ‘We cannot lay all the blame of Africa’s ills at the feet of Europe and the colonial masters.’
‘The high number of African nations that have rewritten their constitutions in order to stay in power indefinitely is staggering.
‘This cannot be healthy for democracy nor for the nation’s poor.
‘Europe may have underdeveloped Africa but I believe we’ve had the opportunity since to shape our future and destiny and are in danger of squandering these opportunities.’
The Most Rev. The Lord Archbishop of York Dr. John Sentamu.