Today, more black Americans are more likely to enter a church to attend a funeral than they are to celebrate a wedding. We are a community in crisis — with fatherless homes, near non-existent marriage rates and spiraling black-on-black crime challenging us to the core.
We must chart a new course.
As a boy, I lived in poverty with my divorced mother in the gang-and-drug-infested housing projects of late 1960s Harlem. From there, I was uprooted to a trailer park in Oklahoma to live with my father. I’ve witnessed how government-sanctioned poverty and failing inner city schools impacted my own family. All three of my siblings never finished high school, and all three ended up incarcerated. My mother — in despair — eventually took her own life in 1988.
By the grace of God, I escaped that life, got an education, married and raised five children — now aged 18 to 28 — who are serving their communities. Whereas all of my siblings experienced a revolving door of partners and relationships; I am the only one among us who has remained with one spouse.
I pledged that my family would never experience the insecurity of a broken family or the poverty and violence of the slums. But I want the same for my community, too.
Black families were stronger during the worst periods of American history than they are today. Since 1968, there has been a fourfold increase in the number of unmarried parents, according to Pew Research. But Census data show this trend especially applies to black families: In 2020, just 41.3% of black kids were growing up in a two-parent home, compared to 78.6% of white kids. Most black kids today can’t remember a time when black marriage was the norm. And with the influence of the black church waning, there is little moral authority to reverse this trend, a phenomenon I call “cultural genocide.”
My Minneapolis-based nonprofit foundation, TakeCharge, is working to reverse this problem — and to elevate those who are voicing a more critical view of the challenges black families face.
To do this, we have produced a documentary, “I AM A VICTOR.” Our message counters the prevailing narrative regarding race and opportunity in the United States. As we see it, the promise of America is available to anyone, regardless of race or social standing. We are not victims.
Our film is a call to action from the black community to the black community to return to our cultural roots of faith, family and education.
Many black youths today are raised with little sense of hope or expectations. Take the example of Baltimore, where a group of black families last month sued the school district for the “injustice” of failing to educate their children.
The situation is so dire in that city that students are graduating from local public schools without being able to read. Meanwhile, a whopping 77% of high schoolers at one Baltimore high school are reading at an elementary level, while 41% of BCPS high school students earned below a 1.0 grade-point average last year. And this is just one American city. Public schools in nearly every major inner city have produced generations of semi-literate kids unable to enter the job market because of limited marketable skills.
To achieve change, the black community must unify around two key messages: Boosting education expectations and restoring fathers to the home. How can we achieve this? First, invest in church-based education and not just traditional — and failing — public schooling. Second, insist that welfare programs are a temporary rather than permanent way of life — with benefits limited to a maximum of five to seven years. And, most crucially, incentivize marriage through additional beneficial tax codes.
Such strategies can (and do) work: In Mississippi, for instance, black students who once scored poorly on standardized reading tests are now performing at some of the highest levels in the nation. One reason for this turnaround, say local leaders, is the Literacy-Based Promotion Act, implemented in 2013, which requires third-graders to pass a reading test before they can be promoted to the fourth grade.
Our community can rise when expectations rise for it. Now is the time to raise them even further. Let’s stop buying the victim narrative and restore our families and communities. We’ll all be better off for it.