Addressing the Crisis in the African American Village

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By Pastor Kip Banks, Sr.

When it comes to the problems plaguing Black America often critics will say that the problems are rooted in the pathologies of urban Black culture, like crime, violence and high rates of welfare dependence. Others place the blame solely on the door steps of broad socioeconomic factors like racism, poverty and unemployment. However, it is rare that one provides an honest, balanced assessment of what ails Black America, yet this is what Dr. Robert M. Franklin, former President of Atlanta’s Morehouse College, does in his book entitled Crisis in the Village: Restoring Hope in African American Communities.

In this book, Dr. Franklin issues a call to strategic action to reverse the decline of families and children’s well-being, the moral authority of churches, and the moral drift in many schools and colleges. Dr. Franklin’s focus is rightly on the task of “child-making” because the future of Black children is at stake. Quoting statistics by Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, he shares the following about Black children living in the U.S:

  • Every five seconds during the school day, a Black public school student is suspended;
  • Every forty-six seconds during the school day, a Black high school student drops out;
  • Every minute, a Black child is arrested and a Black baby is born to an unmarried mother;.
  • Every three minutes, a Black child is born into poverty;
  • Every hour, a Black baby dies;
  • Every four hours, a Black child or youth under twenty dies from an accident;
  • Every five hours, one is a homicide victim;
  • Every day, a young Black person under twenty-five des from HIV infection; and
  • A Black child or youth under twenty commits suicide.

Unfortunately, Marian Wright Edelman’s timeline portrait of what’s happening with Black children is a vivid reality in Washington, DC. Too many of our young people are dying early and the prospects for their future are bleak. So what must we do to address the problem?

Dr. Franklin says that we must work to reverse the decline of core anchor institutions in the community. These institutions are the family, the church and the school. He points out that if these organizations were aligned, healthy and working together, our young people would flourish no matter what the state of the economy or who is in the Mayor’s office or the White House.

In his study, Dr. Franklin says that Black families are suffering from a crisis of commitment. Indeed, Black marriage rates have declined significantly over the last several decades. According to a study done by Morehouse College, 80 percent of all African American children can expect to spend a significant part of their childhood living apart from their fathers. Children do best when both their fathers and mothers are involved in their lives. However, in order to make way for nurturing relationships between a father and his child, there is much to be done between fathers and mothers, men and women. Dr. Franklin says that despite the fact that urban mothers who attend church place a very high value on marriage, there appears to be an “African American faith and family paradox” that involves the coexistence of high rates of church attendance and unusually low rates of marriage. In spite of this, Franklin says that very few Black churches – only three percent — offer formal programs in marriage and parenting. Furthermore, only 5 percent offer programs targeting single-parents and singles and that more should do so.

Not only is there a crisis of commitment but Black churches face a Crisis of Mission. Dr. Franklin says the biggest threat is the “Prosperity Gospel movement.” This is a focus of the church on personal greed, obsessive materialism and unchecked narcissism. This stands counter to the social gospel tradition where the church is concerned about social justice and feeding hungry, and helping the prisoners, the sick and the poor. Franklin says that too many churches today are suffering from an “edifice” complex. They are spending more time building their buildings and local kingdoms when they should spend more time helping the downtrodden and working to ensure the future of our children.

Then finally our schools, according to Franklin, are suffering from a crisis of moral purpose. Franklin says that our schools are failing and that on a regular basis we are “reminded of the culture of violence, drug use, sexual experimentation and moral relativism plaguing many of our schools.” One of the answers to the problem is to foster collaborations with local schools and churches. In addition, churches need to incorporate educational excellence into their ministries and become centers of educational support. These centers would offer after-school programs, mentoring, tutoring, computer resources, and assistance with standardized tests and college preparation.

Dr. Franklin has issued a strong call for us to restore hope in the community by making our families, our church and neighborhood schools stronger. Let each of us do what we can in our own realms of influence and collectively as the DC community to heed the call!

Kip Banks, Sr. is Pastor of the East Washington Heights Baptist Church located in Southeast, Washington, D.C.