Civil rights leaders focus on strengthening the black family

THE plight of the black family rates top priority for three of the nation's best-known civil rights advocates, Benjamin L. Hooks, executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; John E. Jacob, president of the National Urban League; and Dorothy I. Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women. A moral concern for what is right can improve the whole of American society, these black leaders say. And they emphasize one point: ``Black people, especially men and youth, need jobs!''

They encourage black people to exchange ideas and solutions directed at wiping out poverty and related problems. They also prefer an informal network of organizations at local and national levels.

``Following the crowd into drugs and crime is not the way out of misery and lack,'' says Mr. Hooks. ``Forming gangs and mugging old people and women is not the way out of the ghetto! Premature parenthood and welfare is not the life for a teen-ager.''

``Yet today,'' he adds, ``these are basic factors that create single-parent families headed by immature young people, unprepared to make a living, not yet ready to rear children.

``A live baby requires more attention, care, and love than does a Barbie doll.''

The black family requires love, stability, attention, education, and jobs, says Hooks, a minister, lawyer, and entrepreneur. Through networking, black people can restore old institutions and return to old values, he says, by pushing for family togetherness.

``Today's black family undoubtedly faces its greatest challenges,'' says Mr. Jacob. ``Statistics say the black family is in peril. More than 52 percent of our children are part of single-parent families. Nearly 70 percent of these families live in poverty.

``Now is the time for us to mobilize our communities to seek a positive, stable life style for our young people,'' he says. ``We need quality education in our schools. We must prepare our youth for the world of work. We must act to reduce the negative influence of crime and drugs in our communities.''

``Start working with children yesterday,'' insists Ms. Height. ``We cannot sit idly by and wait for someone else to save our children. We can do for ourselves.''

The National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), possibly the nation's most influential black women's organization, was host to a national black family ``reunion'' in Washington, D.C., in September. People from around the country met to discuss and plan for a new type of black family life in America.

The weekend was so successful that the NCNW is planning an expanded series of family activities for 1987, Ms. Height says. ``We are already working with Dr. Weaver to involve not only more women, but more black men.''

``My family's love and respect saved me,'' says Vanessa Weaver, director of the council's two-day Black Family Reunion, plus a dozen mini-reunions in other cities across the nation.

``I know the life the young black mother lives,'' she said. ``When I found myself pregnant at 16, I was lost. I couldn't face my parents. They taught me to achieve. `Be the best you can in whatever you do,' they told me. How could I tell them I was pregnant?''

She recalled her dilemma as a daughter of a middle-class black family, a disheartened high school student, a too-young mother-to-be.

She gave birth to her child, then continued her education, winding up with a doctor's degree.

``No person needs to sink into oblivion because of feelings of guilt, depression, defeat,'' continues Dr. Weaver, a management consultant and clinical psychologist and an executive on loan to the NCNW from Procter & Gamble.

``Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Then go out and do something about your problems,'' she says.

Ebony, the nation's largest black magazine, devoted its entire August issue to ``The Crisis of the Black Family,'' calling it ``perhaps the biggest [crisis] blacks have faced since slavery.''

This problem ``calls us to the high ground of the black founding fathers and mothers who said in a purifying love that passed all understanding that no mountain was high enough to keep them from each other and from the sun,'' wrote John H. Johnson, publisher. ``And if we love with their love and work with their hope and determination, we can save the children and the mothers and fathers and the dream.''

Ebony's cures are similar to those proposed by black leaders: reduce poverty; offer training and jobs to inner-city blacks; stop massive abuse of illegal drugs; end tensions between black men and black women; make black love and the extended family top priorities; and return to the spiritual traditions of black churches and schools.

``We may be seeing a basic change in the form of the family,'' said Hooks. ``The rising divorce rate, the single parent -- they're part of the change.

``We have to look at day-care services. We have to find incentives for mothers to get an education. The time has come for us to stop `blowing in the wind.'''

The Urban League stresses job preparation and employment in its activities.

``The key to our strength is economic stability, our ability to get black people on payrolls,'' Jacob says.

``We have more dropouts because of pregnancy than we have black women college graduates. Our young people not only are not going to school, but those in school are not taking the right courses to fill the needs of the job market.''

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