``Don't make a baby if you can't be a father. Be careful. Be responsible.'' Across America, community leaders from the grass roots to top public officials are preaching these words to adolescents and young men as they work to reduce the birthrate among black teen-agers.
They are making a special appeal to black males in a pilot project, Adolescent Male Responsibility: Pregnancy Prevention and Parenting Program, initiated by the National Urban League.
Founded two years ago as a research and pilot effort, this program has two goals - to encourage single black fathers to take economic and parental responsibility for their offspring, and to steer adolescent black males away from crime, drugs, and the school dropout syndrome.
For instance, Milwaukee has a program called ``Prevention of Teen Fatherhood'' designed to sell local young men on the idea of not joining the ranks of unmarried teen-age parents. The local Urban League has transformed this program into what it calls MARP, Male Adolescent Responsibility Project. It is directed by Kenneth Watt.
``We are bridge builders. We connect young black and Hispanic fathers with responsibility for their children, in wedlock or out,'' Mr. Watt says. ``We work with families to involve males with their `fatherless' children. We encourage nonfathers to be prepared to support any children they may have in the future.''
``Education is our strongest program,'' he says. ``Life education, first; black heritage, second.''
Watt was among more than a score of adults who addressed and conducted workshops at a conference called ``Manhood and Fatherhood: Adolescent Male Responsibility in Black Families,'' held recently in Atlanta by the National Urban League. The meeting provided the first major assessment of the league's nationwide efforts to involve males in a long-range effort to reduce single parenthood among black teen-agers.
[The Children's Defense Fund reported last month that black teen-gers are 2.3 times more likely to give birth than white teen-agers, which the report attributed to higher rates of poverty and lower academic skills.]
``We did not bring a bunch of blueprints for successful programs to this conference,'' said John E. Jacob, the National Urban League's president and chief executive officer. ``Our purpose was to bring together people from all over the nation - research specialists from academia, and people involved in programs that worked and some that didn't quite work out. They mingled and exchanged ideas with people from various agencies and churches and community groups not connected with the Urban League.''
Each local Urban League affiliate has initiated a program to reach young fathers. Some have worked better than others. And the conference focused on the programs that have succeeded.
``We plan to appeal to single male fathers to work with their children,'' says Ed Pitt, director of the league's manhood program. ``We also will include parents and families of the teen-age parents. The black family needs strengthening.''
The highlight of the conference was the presentation of a number of model programs from communities across the nation, sponsored not only by the local Urban League chapters, but by church, civic, family, and youth-development organizations. Besides Milwaukee's MARP, these projects included:
A program called Project Alpha, cosponsored by Alpha Phi Alpha, the national black fraternity, and March of Dimes. It emphasizes education, young black leaders and their motivation and responsibility, and the spreading of their messages to other young males, the family, and the community. It operates in Atlanta, Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and St. Louis.
The Male Youth Project at Shiloh Baptist Church Family Life Center, Washington, D.C. Men in the community serve as role models and mentors in a program that also centers around an after-school project that includes both study and recreational activities, cultural enrichment, and health enhancement workshops. Other church programs include: Project Spirit of the National Congress of Black Churches in Washington, D.C., and Project Image in Chicago.
Men, married or single, fathers or nonparents, are the targets of Black Fatherhood Collective in Brooklyn. Not only does this program conduct the usual workshops in subjects such as self-esteem, male-female relationships, and health, it also refers participants to agencies dealing with job training and placement, high school equivalency diplomas, and college-entrance requirements. Positive Futures seeks to guide young men through planned programming that includes guest speakers, field trips, recreation, and rap sessions that may range from sex education to life options skills workshops. It is basically a league process operated by the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts in Boston.
Parenting and Fatherhood programs aim directly at teen fathers. Spotlighted were programs at the Hough Community Center in Cleveland; the Youth and Family Center in Lawndale, Calif.; and the Albany, N.Y., Urban League.
Black Manhood Training: Body, Mind, and Soul is a counseling program of the Urban League of Greater New Orleans, in cooperation with church and community agencies. This program is preventive, putting boys, 12 to 17, in touch with life beyond their own community and schools.