"Let us be a family tree," reads an illustration on the bulletin board at the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church. The illustration, a felt and construction paper creation, has on its branches the words love, hope, faith, loyalty, praise, support.
Those were the words heard often this week at the church's 17th annual seminar series, entitled "The Black Family: Problems and Prospects."
On successive evenings, speakers explored such topics as "Economic Problems within Black Families" and "America's Jails are Full of Black Males."
The five-night series was free to the public and included a church dinner.
The seminar series was originated by Assistant Pastor Talbert O. Shaw, now dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Morgan State University, when he taught Christian ethics at Howard University. With the help of the church's pastor, the Rev. Jerry A. Moore Jr., the seminars became Shaw's annual project.
The Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, founded by free blacks in 1839, was relocated in 1975 from its historic site at 19th and I streets NW to 4606 16th St. NW.
This year's seminars had a broader scope than earlier series, which have focused on hypertension, aging and parenting, among other subjects.
Shaw said he hoped that the church-funded lectures would examine the black family "sociologically and statistically, but also religiously . . . to see how the church provides religious undergirding."
He added that he sees the seminars as "outreach from the church to the Washington community," although the audience was mostly from the congregation.
Moore said that his goal is to create "an atmosphere in which people can get opinions and form points of view that lead to policy-making. To me, that is one of the functions of the church."
The conference opened with historian Rosalyn-Terborg Penn's lecture, "The History of Black Families in America: Their Struggles and Triumphs."
"There are African continuities in our families and structures . . . being different, however, does not mean being inferior," said Terborg-Penn.
Urbanization, she added, has tended to "break down the survival network you've passed on from generation to generation."
She emphasized, however, that not only have black families endured, they also have "passed on strategies for survival."
Vincent Perry, professor of social work at the University of the District of Columbia, lectured on drugs and the black family.
A member of the Mayor's Advisory Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, Perry spoke of alcohol as a widely abused drug.
To illustrate its allure, he told an anecdote from his southern childhood: "When men and women assembled at any event, there was always a jug behind the barn . . . . When men drank, they wrestled a little more, they talked a little louder . . . things that seemed to me to be manly things."
He had looked forward, he recalled, to growing "old enough to go behind the barn."
"We are afraid. We are all afraid," said church member Ruschie Andrews, 67, who was in the audience with her daughter, son, and two adult grandchildren, "but we cannot stand back and watch our generations of young people go down the drain."
"This year the topics are far more intriguing," said Andrews' daughter, Pauline Johnson, summarizing the sessions. "It's something that needs to be said in every black church that exists."