"Who is responsible when the kids in our community spend more money on drugs and alcohol than on the latest styles? When their only role models are pimps, prostitutes and winos on the corners?" asked the Rev. Bruce Greening.
He looked out on 200 black students, teachers and clergy, meeting for a mass at a Washington hotel after a day of workshops on the problems of black young people, sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington.
"Parents have stopped being responsible. Shools have stopped being responsible and the church has stopped being responsible," Greening said.
The same week, representatives of black Protestant churchs met to discuss how their churches can help young blacks develop a better understanding of themselves.
Both groups met to find answers to similar concerns: inadequate education, increasing crime and suicide rates and low self-esteem on the part of black young people. But their approaches are different.
The 175 Protestant religion program planners who met at Peoples Congregational Church of Christ hope to reach their young people through church and community programs emphasizing their Afro-American heritage.
In this country, black youth are not celebrated by the wide society," said Dr. Eleanore Traylor, a visiting professor of English at Cornell University."Many times when this happens, people take a dim view of themselves and this is what we're trying to prevent.
Black Catholics who planned the "Youth and Young Adult Awareness Days" agree that increased black pride can be an asset but are stressing the need for better education.
In a workshop on identity, Dr. Katherine Cole, a former D.C. public school counselor and chairwoman of the archdiocese's pastoral council, told students to think positively.
"Never think of yourselves that you're not smart," she said. "Learn how to use words, take your LSATs and SATs next year! That's how you're going to conquer the enemy."
Jacqueline Wilson, director of the Secretariat for Black Catholics here, which also sponsored the weekend program, said that the breakdown of the extended family has troubled young blacks. "In the black society where one-parent familes are so common, the extended family provided that extra dose of security," she said.
Other black Catholic educators and clergy said churches must pay a larger role in the community by holding teachers and students to tough education standards and demanding that parents take an interest in education.
Sister Helen Stanislaus, a teacher at Holy Comforter High School, said the city schools must do a better job.
"Many public school students who transfer to this school test a year or more below where they should be.
"You build pride through expectation and stiff grading systems," she said, "not through lower standards."
To further stress the importance of education, the secretariat and Catholic University are sponsoring a workshop for parents at the university tommorrow. Sessions will deal with discipline, educating the handicapped and interpreting test results.
But the Rev. A. Knighton Stanely, pastor of Peoples Church on 13th Street NW, said, "It's not that the public schools here aren't doing a good job. The best education system in the world won't teach kids how to be human and humane. "That's what we're striing for here at Peoples Church."
Protestant and Catholic church leaders, however, said they think young blacks are turning to the churches for answers to their troubles.
Stanley said he sees more young people taking part in church activities now than in his 12 years at Peoples Church.
"The same things that are pushing young blacks into drugs are pushing them in here," he said. "They get a sense of community and belonging here."
The secretariat hopes that as a result of its findings at the workshops, the archdiocese will consider some changes.
Wilson said she would like to see more black-oriented programs, or at least programs held at more convenient locations and times for youths who hold after-school jobs.
Blacks also are not used to worshiping in the European tradition, said Wilson, and she will consider that problem.
Wilson added that within several weeks, when the youth questionnaires have been studied, she will respond to the needs they suggest.
Members of Peoples Church are sending out a list of suggestions for national religious organizations on how to meet the needs of youth and foster black awareness. The suggestions ranged from creating church libraries to urging writers to give blacks charaters more depth instead of reying on stereotypes.