They are part of the rising tide of a lost generation. She is 18, a high school junior and pregnant with her second child. He is 20, newly employed as a construction worker and hankering to prove his manhood. Unlike many of his peers, he has not fulfilled the familiar rite of passage: fatherhood.
She had the first baby thinking that it would help her hold onto her boyfriend. Now, the attractive, heavyset girl-woman is wiser; this child she does not want. So she plans to take matters into her own hands and have an abortion. To escape her boyfriend's wrath, she will not reveal to him that she is planning to get rid of the baby he so badly wants.
This painful situation is just one tiny piece in a national puzzle: Babies are having babies at the rate of more than one a minute -- about 64 every hour. In 1982, according to a study sponsored by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, about one out of every five District teen-age girls became pregnant during 1980.
Meanwhile, we ponder the predicament, straining for solutions, real solutions to stop the tide of this foundering generation.
The traditional approach to reducing teen-age pregnancy has been to counsel young women. But realizing that it takes two people to make a baby, the National Urban League has hit upon a national approach to reducing pregnancy that is gaining increasing acceptance in various local jurisdictions: focusing the antipregnancy campaign on the responsibility of young men.
Although the number of teen births among whites is rising faster than among blacks, black teens still are more likely to become pregnant and five times as likely to give birth out of wedlock. The reasons for the disproportionately high number of black teen-age pregnancies are tangled and complex, and I'm convinced that the experts need a lot more raw data and information in order to speak about the causes with any authority.
But, in the meantime, it is important that the Urban League is moving the national focus to young black men.
" It's important to speak frankly to our young black males and tell them that being a teen-age father does not make you a man," says Urban League president John Jacob.
In its campaign, the league will print ads and posters carrying the message, "Be careful. Be responsible." A musical radio commercial will promote the theme, "Think Before You Do." Some 200 black newspapers and magazines and 300 black-oriented radio stations will carry the materials as a public service. In addition, the league's 113 affiliates, including Washington, will distribute the posters to churches, schools, youth organizations, businesses and community groups, which also will offer counseling services.
In my view, such campaigns will have limited success in putting the brakes on a problem of incredible dimensions; a child who becomes a mother embarks on a virtually certain life course of dependency and poverty. Unfortunately, the life prospects of young men for whom the highest aspiration is to father those children are very gloomy in America today.
During the last two decades, as the number of households headed by black women doubled, the percentage of adult black men with jobs fell from 74 percent to 55 percent.
With black male employment falling at such a velocity, hope for attaining status in the society based upon the traditional rules is slim. In the absence of traditional ways such as employment to make a mark upon society, it is unlikely that a widespread change in behavior will come about.
But not all young black males will need to see fatherhood as an appropriate testimonial for their relentless macho privilege, and programs such as the Urban League's can remind them of their obligations and the consequences of sexual activity. In some states, older teens can be required to pay child support.
We should not forget, however, that such problems as chronic joblessness clearly cannot be solved by black community initiative alone. Programs such as the league's are important, however, as an indication that the black community is not waiting for any other segment of society to take the lead.
Similarly, the Delta Sigma Theta sorority and the Children's Defense Fund continue their efforts, focusing on young women, and that is still a necessity.
One thing is clear: No single effort can turn back the tide of this overwhelming problem that is tearing at the fabric of black family life. And if we don't turn it around, for many youths in this generation, there will be no future -- no future at all.