As we focus on Black History month, one of the most worthwhile things we can do for our future legacy is to rededicate our efforts to build strong family units.
Sociologists proclaim that many forces bombard the family unit in contemporary society. Many also readily acknowledge that whatever plagues society generally, whether economic problems, educational problems, divorce, single parenting, poor housing, etc., the impact on African-American families is much more severe and the ramifications more far-reaching and long-lasting.
In many ways, the black family unit still suffers from the ravages of history. There are many strong black families, headed by one or both parents. There are many others reeling from some indelible scars which originated with the institution of slavery – an institution that did everything in its power to rape and destroy the family unit, separating mother and father, mother and child. Moreover, even though it has been nearly one hundred and fifty years since that wretched institution supposedly died, the many negative effects are visible today.
The black family, imperiled by one destructive force after the other and this impact is seen throughout communities across the country. You need only to review a few grim statistics: The vicious cycle of black on black crime, higher rates of unemployment during economic prosperity, poor health and limited or no access to the best healthcare available. By comparison, the black family still, disproportionately, lives in poor housing and blighted neighborhoods. The feelings of helplessness, complacency, apathy and general lethargy, is much too high.
Perhaps, the greatest and long-lasting impact of these destructive forces is on the children. They are the ones who find it difficult to have vision, to see beyond their immediate living environment. They are the ones who are more vulnerable, who are likely to succumb to drugs and a life of crime to escape their deprived and disheartening condition. They are the children having children, in part out of ignorance and a lack of direction, in part out of hope and the need to feel important to someone, to show love, to receive love. The result is double jeopardy, double loss. A young girl may never reach her potential; and the child she brings into the world starts out at a disadvantage. For a family unit that is already frail and weak, this can only make it weaker, more vulnerable.
Where do the answers lie? How do we stop the destructive forces?
First, we must refuse to believe they are beyond our control. We must commit ourselves to do whatever we can to strengthen the family unit. The answers are neither simple nor easy. Nor will they be achieved overnight. We must tackle some very tough problems, like the perpetual dependency on welfare. Welfare is a complicated subject, with complex causes. But relying on welfare breeds more dependency. Welfare is like a pain reliever, temporary and somewhat comforting, but it offers no ultimate cure for what is causing the problem. It is not a job where you can earn enough wages to improve your living conditions. Long term, it often does more harm than good.
As we continue to work for better housing, better education, equal access to jobs and other economic opportunities, we should invest a substantial amount of time with our young people. We must help them overcome many hurdles and misconceptions that can destroy their future – even before they have any idea of what that future can be.
Some basics we need to convey: For starters, to our young men, we must tell them there is nothing to be proud of or boast about when they father children they cannot support. Our boys need to be plainly told that it does not make them men. And our girls need to be told that becoming pregnant is not proof or guarantee of love from the father who was not ready to be one, or the child who could easily grow to be resentful for bringing him/her into the world under such wretched and stigmatized conditions – conditions which neither parent is prepared to change.
We must continue to emphasize the absolute need to get an education. Without an education in today's society, the odds of improving your living conditions are firmly stacked against you. We cannot continue to let our children indulge in the rap and "crap" on the radio, and ignore the lessons and messages in the classroom.
To achieve appreciation for the value of a strong family unit, and address those needs to build and preserve it, is often like any positive outcomes, it must be taught, learned and practiced.
While past conditions that have left destruction and feelings of hopelessness, cannot be undone, we CAN stop them and continue to build a stronger family unit – for future generations.
Let us keep our eyes on the real prize: Strengthening our families for the sake of our children.