Celebrating black history as the black family disintegrates

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Here we are, another Black History Month: time to lionize great black men and women of the past. Twenty-eight days to praise the first African American to do this and the first African American who did that. Another month of looking back with pride - as we ignore the calamity in our midst.

When Black History Month was celebrated in 1950, according to State University of New York research, 77.7 percent of black families had two parents. As of January 2010, according to the Census Bureau, the share of two-parent families among African Americans had fallen to 38 percent.

We know that children, particularly young male African Americans, benefit from parental marriage and from having a father in the home. Today, the majority of black children are born to single, unmarried mothers.

Celebrate? Let's celebrate.

Three years ago, I wrote about young girls in our city who are not learning what they are really worth, young men who aren't being taught to treat young women with respect, and boys and girls who are learning how to make babies but not how to raise them ["A Tragedy That Is Ours to Stop," op-ed, July 19, 2008].

Those conditions, the column suggested, find expression in youth violence, child abuse and neglect, school dropout rates, and the steady stream of young men flowing into the city's detention facilities.

Boys get guns, girls get babies. To buttress that point, I referred to the Web site of the D.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, which posted maps from 2005 and 2006 identifying the location of juvenile arrests and births to 15- to 19-year-olds in the District. Neighborhoods plagued by youth violence, the maps showed, were the same neighborhoods where birth rates among teenagers were highest.

Fast-forward to 2008, the latest year for which the organization has such data. The statistics are updated, but little changed: The maps show that juvenile arrests and teen births are still clustered in the same areas of the city. The three jurisdictions leading in teen births and juvenile arrests were Wards 8, 7 and 5.

Ward 8, represented by D.C. Council member Marion Barry, is first, with a total of 1,487 teen births and juvenile arrests.

Council member Yvette Alexander's Ward 7 ranks second with 1,386 combined teen births and juvenile arrests.

Third place goes to Ward 5, represented by council member Harry Thomas Jr.; it racked up 1,186 teen births and juvenile arrests.

This isn't top-secret stuff. Nor is the pattern new. We don't need maps to tell us what the problem of teen births means to the city.

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