Bring Families Back Together

David Blankenhorn and Obie Clayton, Atlanta Journal Constitution, 6/18/1999

Black children need and deserve strong, loving fathers in their lives. Ten, or even five years ago, this truth was still more ignored than acknowledged, in part due to the chilling effects of the Moynihan report on our national debate. But the time for denial is over. Neither the African-American community nor the nation can truly prosper until we reverse this terrible trend of father absence. Marriage matters. Obviously, the movement must take into account the current high rates of births to parents who are not married. But we must help young parents as we find them, not simply as we would wish them to be. We must do everything possible, whatever the couple's marital status, to nurture the father-child bond. We also know that for many young, poor, unwed parents who will participate in these programs, marriage is neither desirable nor possible.

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Subjects: Fatherhood, Family

More by: David Blankenhorn and Obie Clayton

The great tragedy for black fathers today is that 70 percent of all black children are born to mothers who have never been married.

By some estimates, more than 80 percent of this generation of black children is likely to spend all or much of their childhoods living apart from their fathers.

But we may finally be turning the corner. There has been a decline in the number of unwed African-American teenagers who are having children.

Attitudes are shifting. New leaders are emerging. For the first time since 1965, when Daniel Patrick Moynihan's (now a U.S. Senator from New York) report to President Johnson on the breakdown of the black family provoked a heated racial controversy, a broadly based fatherhood movement rooted in the African-American community is now poised to confront this issue.

Five years ago, the fatherhood movement hardly existed. Today, in the African-American community alone, we estimate 2,000 to 3,000 local leaders and up to 1,000 relatively new organizations are now directly engaged in reuniting fathers with their children.

Black children need and deserve strong, loving fathers in their lives. Ten, or even five years ago, this truth was still more ignored than acknowledged, in part due to the chilling effects of the Moynihan report on our national debate. But the time for denial is over. Neither the African-American community nor the nation can truly prosper until we reverse this terrible trend of father absence.

Marriage matters. Obviously, the movement must take into account the current high rates of births to parents who are not married. But we must help young parents as we find them, not simply as we would wish them to be. We must do everything possible, whatever the couple's marital status, to nurture the father-child bond. We also know that for many young, poor, unwed parents who will participate in these programs, marriage is neither desirable nor possible.

At the same time, the evidence is clear that homes with married couples are the best environments for raising children. Moreover, marriage is already an important, if unrealized, goal for many young, low-income African-American parents.

A recent study of these fragile families by Sara McLanahan of Princeton University finds that about half of the couples are living together at the time of their child's birth. The majority say they are romantically involved. More than half say they either plan to get married or hope to get married. We should build on this natural desire for intimacy and a stable family life. In helping these young couples to strengthen their parenting partnerships, fatherhood programs should uphold the ideals of marriage and help as many couples as possible move toward stable, nurturing marriages.

We must improve economic opportunities for young black men. Recent research by William Julius Wilson of Harvard University shows that young black fathers who have jobs are eight times more likely to eventually marry than their jobless counterparts.

Reversing the trend of father absence should rise to the very top of the agenda for African-American civil rights, fraternal, professional, philanthropic, social and civic organizations. What would happen in the next decade if African-American leaders decided to bring to this new struggle the same energy and dedication, the same passion and fearlessness, that was summoned to wage the struggle for basic civil rights?

There is also an important role for society and government. This summer, Congress will consider legislation that would authorize up to $2 billion over the next five years to help support community-based fatherhood programs aimed at strengthening the father-child bond, promoting marriage and improving economic opportunities for young, poorly educated minority men.

The fatherhood movement exists now and deserves a chance to make a difference in the lives of millions of families. We urge Congress to pass this legislation.

This article originally appeared here.

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