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The National Black Church Initiative’s
African American Family Circle Initiative

NBCI Healing Family Initiative

A Ten-Year Plan

The National Black Church Initiative (NBCI), a coalition of 34,000 churches, is committed to strengthening the African American family by repairing the damage created by unmarried parents, weak moral standards, and years of neglecting to address this truly pressing societal issue.  The family unit is an essential component in the fabric of American life and the success of the Black community depends on the Church’s vigorous defense of the traditional family.  Studies have shown that children thrive on the love and support of two parents – it is this basic fact that propels NBCI to take action to protect the family by safeguarding and promoting marriage between a man and a woman, educating African Americans on the importance of health and financial responsibility, involving therapy to repair at-risk relationships, preventing violence, and creating new standards for families nationwide.  It is time to stand up for the family and create a better future for our children.

NBCI feels that African American families are at a critical crossroad – the Black family is in worse shape now than at any other point in American history.  We can ill afford to continue down this path that has proven to lead to violence, poverty, moral depravity, and failure.  Success stories abound – Obama being a shining beacon for the potential for success no matter what your skin color.  It is time for the majority of African Americans to follow this example and reverse trajectory of the African American family.  NBCI, through this African American Family Circle Initiative, will educate Blacks nationwide utilizing Family Strengthening Circles – summits composed of leaders in good standing with the Black community and the Black Church.  These Family Circles will address issues germane to each specific community and tackle education, relationships, intimacy, and health through individual, marital, and societal counseling to enact real change for this population so tragically in need of attention.

Robert M. Franklin, President of Morehouse College and author of the groundbreaking book Crisis in the Village: Restoring Hope in African American Communities[1], lays out a blueprint for the Black Church on what needs to be done to bring healing to our community.  The Black Church has the ultimate responsibility to the family – if the Black family fails so does the Church.  This is why we have made the conscious decision to use Dr. Franklin’s book as a guide to repair the structural damages to the Black family, community, and church.

In his introduction, Dr. Franklin clearly outlines the difficulties discussing this pervasive problem – these difficulties are likely why the NAACP, the Urban League, and other organizations have failed to create any workable plan properly addressing the core issues facing the African American family.  Their policy directives and ineffective programmatic approaches continue to fail the Black community as they are not adequately connected to the one entity able of cohesively addressing the African American community – the Black Church.  The Black Church clearly recognizes the historical contributions that these organizations have made which allow us to continue to shape the agenda but in some respects these organizations are part of the reason why the Black family is in such a poor state.

A perfect example of this is the NAACP’s California Chapter’s support of Proposition 19 – the legalization of marijuana.  Their support is due to their inability to extricate itself from the wishes of the liberal, white supporters and their confusion that this is good for African Americans.  They believe that because African American men are arrested more often than white men for possession of marijuana that it is a benefit to the community to de-criminalize marijuana possession.  No one is talking about the message that this sends to young African Americans – some of which are uneducated – in California and nationwide.  Legalizing the possession of small amounts of a drug with proven health risks that damages the fabric of families is not the solution to disparate arrest rates.  Reducing drug use among African Americans IS the sure-fire way to eliminate this problem for African Americans and this is an example of the shortsightedness of organizations whose aim is supposedly to uplift the Black community.

In his assessment addresses the scope of the issues facing the African American family, Dr. Franklin says the following:

Clearly there are multiple spheres of crisis and challenge.  As Ralph Ellison once commented, ‘Trying to deal with the Negro problem apart from dealing with America’s problem is like trying to do brain surgery with a switchblade.’  Heeding Ellison, I will attempt to speak directly to the crisis within African American villages.  This makes sense because most of the Black population is now urbanized, and, unfortunately, those urban centers are highly segregated by race and class.  In response from the occasionally asked questions, ‘What is the Black community today?’ I respond: ‘Wherever people of African descent are in the majority, whether by choice or circumstance, and they identify with the historical struggle for freedom, that is a Black village.’  But while focusing on Black communities and experiences, I’d like to peer further and more deeply into those dimensions of crisis that African Americans share with other communities.  Again, the big conversation is about common good.  Some challenges are distinctive to the Black community but most are not.  And I would argue that our shared, common ground must become the basis for collective action on behalf of the larger public good.  Indeed, whatever common ground we can find or claim in this troubled time is a high moral achievement.”

‘Wherever people of African descent are in the majority, whether by choice or circumstance, and they identify with the historical struggle for freedom, that is a Black village.’ The Black Church has the ultimate responsibility to the family – if the Black family fails so does the Church. 
While the decline of marriage is clearly an American problem, statistics point to the glaring truth – African Americans are disproportionately devaluing the importance of marriage nationwide.  The marriage rate for African Americans has been dropping since the 1960s and today has the lowest marriage rate of any racial group in the United States.  According to the 2001 US Census, 43.3% of Black men and 41.9% of Black women in America have never been married, and Black women are least likely in American society to marry.  These figures are double that of white men and women.  Between 1970 and 2001 the overall marriage rate has dropped, overall by 17%.  However, for African Americans during this same time period, the marriage rate dropped a staggering 34%.

There are those who point to historic racism as the root of the decline of the African American family – even going so far as to assert that it was due to the oppressive practice of slavery which first disbanded Black families in America.  While slavery was truly a repulsive and hateful chapter in American history and does contribute to many pervasive race issues continuing to plague our nation, slavery did not cause the current breakdown of Black families.  According to sociologist Andrew J. Cherlin, “A black child was more likely to grow up living with both parents during the days of slavery than he or she is today.” 

For those that disagree on how the African American family has reached this low, while interesting and occasionally relevant, reasons do not change the fact that the Black family is failing.  Author Amy Wax asserts the following in her book Race, Wrongs, and Remedies: Group Justice in the 21st Century, “That Blacks did not, in an important sense, cause their current predicament does not preclude charging them with alleviating it.”  Wax outlines her point in the interesting anecdote:

“In 1987, a rich philanthropist in Philadelphia ‘adopted’ 112 inner-city sixth-graders, most of them from broken homes. He guaranteed them a fully-funded education through college if the kids would refrain from drugs, unwed parenthood, and crime. He even provided tutors, workshops, after-school programs, summer programs, and counselors when trouble arose. Forty-five of the kids never made it through high school. Thirteen years later, of the sixty-seven boys, nineteen were felons; the forty-five girls had sixty-three total children, and more than half had their babies before the age of eighteen. Crucially, this was not surprising: The reason was culture. These children had been nurtured in communities with different norms.”

As Ms. Wax puts it, one of the first steps is to “stop focusing on the past, think about culture rather than structure, and criticize failure and emulate success”.  NBCI, a champion for the rights of African Americans and a defender of solutions which propagate the success of Blacks nationwide, knows that the solution to this problem begins and ends with the Black community.  As a member of Black society we hold the necessary tools to rebuild our own families.

jumping the broom- black weddingMarriage is an essential component for successful families.  Today, across all races, more than 6.8 million opposite-sex unmarried couples lived together in 2008.  This family trend seems to affect African American children specifically at a disparate rate - the latest look from the US Census Bureau shows that only 32% of Black children live with both parents as opposed to 78% of white children.

While these overall statistics paint a grim picture for marriage, African American women are specifically suffering from low marriage rates and the unavailability of marriageable Black men.  As reported by ABC News, a Yale study indicates that 42% of African American women have yet to be married compared to only 23% of white women.  Additionally, the 2000 US Census counted 1.8 million more African American women than black men.  The conclusion here is simple – there are less Black men to go around and the ones that remain aren’t marrying Black women.

While the marriage rates for African Americans are shocking, even more alarming is the marriage rates in high-income brackets.  For 25 to 29 year olds earning $100,000 or more annually, 93% of African Americans and nearly 100% of Latinas are single!  These statistics illuminate another surprising facet of marriage and divorce – for these high income earners ($100,000+) in the 30 to 34 age bracket, 36% are divorced compared to 6% of white women of the same age and income.  These statistics are disheartening for successful African American and Latina women – you’re more likely to be single or single and/or divorced with only the tiniest statistical sliver of hope for marriage.

Marriage has several important benefits to the woman and man involved – financial stability, health benefits, extended family support systems, etc – but most important is the marriage’s effect on the children who result from this union. As the statistics above have illustrated, marriage is not a component of every family and the participants of these non-marital unions do suffer significantly.  The true victims, however, are the children – and there are more of these ‘victims’ than ever before.  From his book Crisis in the Village: Restoring Hope in African American Communities, Robert M. Franklin discusses the burdens on marriage, parenting, and family life as a result of poverty.  “Father absence (men who have not seen their children during the past year or more) in poor communities is approximately 40% and the non-marital birthrate in African American communities hovers at around 70%.”

Marriage has several important benefits to the woman and man involved – financial stability, health benefits, extended family support systems, etc – but most important is the marriage’s effect on the children who result from this union.

While many children are being raised by other family, community members, and occasionally the state, children are best served when raised by their biological parents unless extreme circumstances warrant interventions by the above alternatives.  This is not to say that biological parents should not seek the support and strength of their extended families, friends, community, and available social services as children deserve the widest possible net of love and care.  However, it is important to recognize that the statistical majority of Black families are now operating with less support than they should or could – namely, participation of the fathers.  Men who are unmarried, as researched by Robert Franklin, are more likely to engage in life-threatening risks, earn significantly less, have higher mortality rates, and less satisfaction with their lives.  Therefore, these unmarried fathers, who are less likely to be the custodial parent of their children, are at risk for financial, social, and personal disadvantages which directly affect both their children and the mother(s) of their children.

From an article entitled The Dad Difference by Kyle D. Pruett, there are several immediate benefits to a present father. “The single most important birth circumstance that protected against birth complications and further illness and trauma in the newborn was the father’s presence at delivery.”  Secondly, “positive parental engagement for both boys and girls is closely associated with a lower incidence of disruptive behavior, depression, sadness, and lying; a higher sociability through complying with parent’s wishes, getting along with others, and being responsible; boys having fewer school behavior problems; and girls having more cheerful and happy exchanges, greater capacity for positive self-involvement, and a greater willingness to try new things.”

Kay S. Hymowitz, in her article The Black Family: 40 Years of Lies, outlines the problem caused by rejecting the now infamous Moynihan Report.

Moynihan, then assistant secretary of labor and one of a new class of government social scientists, was among the worriers, as he puzzled over his charts. One in particular caught his eye. Instead of rates of black male unemployment and welfare enrollment running parallel as they always had, in 1962 they started to diverge in a way that would come to be called “Moynihan’s scissors.” In the past, policymakers had assumed that if the male heads of household had jobs, women and children would be provided for. This no longer seemed true. Even while more black men—though still “catastrophically” low numbers—were getting jobs, more black women were joining the welfare rolls. Moynihan and his aides decided that a serious analysis was in order.

Convinced that “the Negro revolution . . . a movement for equality as well as for liberty,” was now at risk, Moynihan wanted to make several arguments in his report. The first was empirical and would quickly become indisputable: single-parent families were on the rise in the ghetto. But other points were more speculative and sparked a partisan dispute that has lasted to this day. Moynihan argued that the rise in single-mother families was not due to a lack of jobs but rather to a destructive vein in ghetto culture that could be traced back to slavery and Jim Crow discrimination. Though black sociologist E. Franklin Frazier had already introduced the idea in the 1930s, Moynihan’s argument defied conventional social-science wisdom. As he wrote later, “The work began in the most orthodox setting, the U.S. Department of Labor, to establish at some level of statistical conciseness what ‘everyone knew’: that economic conditions determine social conditions. Whereupon, it turned out that what everyone knew was evidently not so.

Moynihan went much further than merely overthrowing familiar explanations about the cause of poverty. He also described, through pages of disquieting charts and graphs, the emergence of a “tangle of pathology,” including delinquency, joblessness, school failure, crime, and fatherlessness that characterized ghetto—or what would come to be called underclass—behavior. He knew the dangers it posed to “the basic socializing unit” of the family. And he suspected that the risks were magnified in the case of blacks, since their “matriarchal” family had the effect of abandoning men, leaving them adrift and ‘alienated.’

In an effort to truly understand, respond to, and address the issues surrounding African American families it is important to highlight ongoing racial disparities pervasive in education, economics, health, and housing.  As published by the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health, African Americans fare worse than their White counterparts in almost every arena.  In 2007 a lower percentage of Blacks had earned a high school diploma than their white counterparts and fewer Blacks enrolled in post-high school education.   The National Black Church Initiative has devised an Education Initiative and we already have 250,000 volunteers working to drastically cut the dropout rate among African American males and to increase graduation rates of males and females at the collegiate level, especially at historically black colleges and high schools across America. Our dropout prevention programs and educational summits, seminars, and initiatives are designed to promote education as a cultural requirement, a financially sound investment, and a tool to create future success.

Financially, as education levels indicate, African Americans are again at a disadvantage.  The average African American median income was $33,916 compared to $54,920 for non-Hispanic white families.  An astonishing 24.5% of African Americans live at the poverty level compared to 8.2% of non-Hispanic whites.  NBCI has created an aggressive financial literacy program to respond to this pressing need. Our savings program encourages African American families to save 1 year of salary over the next 7 years. Education will be the center of this initiative, and we plan to emphasize it in all phases of church life. This program will help people realize the importance and power of money and the effect it has on them emotionally, spiritually, socially, physically, and economically. It also empowers them to use money more effectively to carry out daily tasks and long-range plans. In essence, this course will change financial behavior in the Black community to promote home and business ownership, long-range savings, family security, and, most important, provide reasons to save, invest, buy insurance, and set money aside for college and retirement.

father head of householdIn terms of health, African Americans have a higher death rate for heart diseases, stroke, cancer, asthma, influenza, pneumonia, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and homicide.   These statistics point to both the overall health states affecting Black men and women and the diseases or health habits they pass along to their children – continuing the cycle of unhealthy behaviors and disease diagnoses.  The National Black Church Initiative has declared a Health Emergency in the Black Church. Our Health Emergency Declaration (HED) is a comprehensive approach to tackling the tragic state of health in the Black community. For decades the African American community has seen no decrease in the health disparities gap in America despite the many attempts to fix the issue by the government and private organizations. The reasons that these plans did not work are many, but the underlying cause of all of them is that they did not have an already established grounding in the Black community. Through the establishment of 35 innovative health prevention communities, HED plans to create actual change using proven, scientific methods that will educate these communities across the country and promote preventive healthcare among them. Because of the Black Church’s leading role in the Black community, HED will have a greater and lasting impact on the African American community and seriously help to decrease the health disparities that are so prevalent within it.  You can find more information about our HED Initiatives at http://www.naltblackchurch.com/health/.

Housing needs also affect African Americans at disparate levels.  According to the US Census for 2007, 47.2% of African Americans are homeowners as compared to 68.1% of Whites.  The National Black Church Initiative teamed with national mortgage and housing organizations to provide congregants and the public with information on how to keep their home.  The first initiative product was the NBCI Foreclosure Prevention Guide, to help identify resources for the explicit purpose of assisting homeowners facing financial difficulties. The program has grown to include the Ten Easy Steps to Help Stop Foreclosure guide to help homeowners navigate the housing crisis, and information for those intending to be first-time homebuyers.

All of these factors combined point to a serious crisis in the African American community and family.  NBCI has several strategies to implement a science-based approach to address, and hopefully repair the African American family and reverse some of the harm done in the past 60 years.

NBCI Healing Family Initiative: Solution Base

The central essence of NBCI’s Family Strengthening Circles is to create a structured environment of education, learning, and training.  The core issue of the African American family, we believe, is to provide sufficient and adequate educational training modalities on how to implement a successful, Christian family-based model.  The model should help our families deal with any evils that are destroying the family i.e. marital strife, sexual, economic, and spiritual issues.  Central to the success of this family model and institute is to be able to employ, in a strategic manner, the divine power of the ethics and teachings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

What the Black Family needs is a training institute that will deal with every single issue that is destroying the Black Family, as pointed out below.  This institute should create a Christian-based science model that once established can help to overcome issues facing today’s family.  The essence of what we are proposing becomes education and training with the help of prayer and Christ’s guidance through the Holy Spirit.

We plan to devote all of our time building and strengthening this structure where a science-based, cultural training can take place to defeat the evils that are undermining the glory of the Black Family.  This is the complete and central goal of our initiative.

NBCI’s Black Family Institute

The Black Family Institute should be established in every NBCI Faith Command.  NBCI’s Faith Commands cover the entire geographic area of the United States.  What we envision is to employ Christian psychologists, family educators, financial literacy experts, and clergy to create an ongoing curriculum for families and to provide trainer of trainer’s programs so we can create certified family trainers in all of our congregations. 

These institutes will have a staff of seven people and will become a Training Family Center for the fifteen major African American denominations in this country.  We will look at congregant models in the Christian community, such as Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, CO, to begin to strengthen these institutes.  Our theological culture, social, and anthropologist approach will be based upon Black culture and understanding.  It is critically important that the approach of the Institute and building the Black Family Model reflects the social sciences of African Americans.  Let there be no mistake about it, Christ’s Biblical central teachings will be the overarching theoretical approach that the Black Family Institute utilizes.  All of our curriculums will be viewed in that light by African American, Bible-believing pastors. It is critical to emphasize here how important it is to understand the theories from the theologian, but it is most important to understand the application from pastors because of their unprecedented access to their congregants and clearly understanding and knowing what Black Christian families need and how to present it.  If there is ever a conflict between theory and application concerning family, the Black Family Institute, in building its family model, will consider Bible scripture as precedent over sociological theory.


NBCI’s Healing Family Initiative dedicated in memory of Dr. Dorothy Heights.  This project will be an extension of Dorothy Heights’ dream of strengthening the Black family through her long career as President of the National Council of Negro Women and her tireless support of the National Black Family Reunion.  As a strong advocate for the Black Family Dr. Heights has inspired NBCI to follow in her prestigious footsteps to enact change that will honor her lifelong efforts.

To fulfill this goal we will do the following:

  1. NBCI will issue a statement on the Black family and the importance of strong family ties in an effort to stop the hemorrhaging in the areas of divorce, marriage, and single parent-ness. 
  2. NBCI will hold a series of Black family seminars in our churches, two in each of the faith commands.
  3. NBCI will issue a report card on politicians and government agencies that we believe are a threat to the American family, urging our members not to support these organizations or individuals.
  4. NBCI will tackle the issue of spousal and relationship abuse head on.
  5. NBCI will not tolerate sexual violence – pedophilia, incest, rape, etc.
  6. NBCI will hold classes educating members on healthy marriage practices and good parenting.
  7. NBCI will deal with the issue of adultery in an effort to protect marriage, relationships, and Christian values.
  8. NBCI will teach healthy family eating habits and encourage exercise.
  9. NBCI will address cultural forces within society that have an anti-Black family influence.
  10. NBCI will declare that homosexuality is a threat to the existence of the Black family and should be met with counseling, prayer, and other legitimate means of therapy.

NBCI will organize Family Strengthening Circles throughout its 34,000 church network.  Each distinct geographic area with a significant African American community and NBCI member churches will contain a Family Strengthening Circle containing 7 to 14 individuals, not exceeding 14 people.  The purpose of these circles is to examine and understand the social, psychological, and economic issues facing the Black families in that specific area.  We do understand that each area is affected by its own unique set of weaknesses and strengths that have their own distinct set of possible solutions.

As the goal of each Family Circle is to facilitate dialogue while circumventing bureaucracy, we aim to limit the participants of these Circles to 14.  These members, distinguished and respected members of the African American community, cannot afford to be bogged down by processes that undermine the goal of the summit.  These Family Circles are not an opportunity for participants to display their intellectual or moral superiority – that would undermine the spirit of the event.  The central point is to arrive at solutions of the unique problems facing their community through logical, respectful dialogue. It is also necessary to challenge the present science and methodology that slows progress for the African American family – in other words, we have to find a way that works.

Each Circle should contain the experts in the following fields – financial, legal, education, medicine/health.  The church must also be represented in the form of NBCI members – at least 3 recognized, ordained clergy participants.  These clergy participants cannot be NBCI Faith Command Leaders as these leaders will be overseeing the Family Circle in their faith command.  Find more information about NBCI Faith Commands at http://www.naltblackchurch.com/about/index.html.   The Circle should represent all facets of the public; however, the majority of the participants should be married with children so as to accurately discuss the issues at hand.  Single, divorced, widowed, or separated participants should be present as well and each panel will have its own unique composition.  Homosexual issues can and will be discussed but openly gay panel participants will not be considered for the Family Circles.  Family Circles will not be a platform for discrimination in any way, but these Circles do represent the teachings of Jesus Christ and as such will exclude this particular segment of society.

For each of Family Circles there will be sub-committees dealing with specific issues.  These committees will help young people make good choices and motivate their peers to make similarly intelligent life choices.  These sub-committees will also educate the adults participating in the Family Circle about the needs of the young people within their community to better address their issues. These sub-committees will be divided as follows:

  • African American Males – Ages 10 to 21
  • African American Females - Ages 10 to 21

father head of householdThe Family Circle must highlight the importance of marriage and discuss ways to improve both marriage rates and retention.

The Family Circle’s charge is to set the moral standards for the African American community in which the Family Circle is being held.  These Circles are not meant to stop at mere dialogue – enforcement of the goals and codes decided upon in each Circle must be a priority.  The enforcement of the standards of the African American community decided upon in each Family Circle will uphold the proud traditions of each community while developing innovative strategies to deal with the blights that mar the African American landscape.  For instance, the ‘trend’ of young African American men wearing their pants so low that their underwear is showing – ‘sagging’ – can be an issue for some communities but not for others.  In some communities this may be a priority as these young children subject themselves to prejudices, discrimination, and stereotypes that affect their ability to function as beneficial members of the community and society at large.  This is something that can be regulated through support from schools, churches, civic groups, parents, and more.  There is nothing too large or too small to be addressed in these Circles and it is essential to see the solution, or possible solution, for each issue.

The goal here, before making any decisions, is to listen to all parties.  It is through discussing the truly difficult topics and attempting to work together to find new solutions that these Family Circles will enact change.

The other central charge of these Family Circles is to pay particular attention to female head-of-households.  These women, as indicated by the statistics above, represent a significant segment of the African American community.  A relationship must be made with these women, with the help of the church, in an effort to strengthen support networks, provide essential counseling, and to encourage these women to go to church on a regular basis.  The Circle should set standards and provide critical direction to these women with the goal of breaking the cycle of single motherhood, reinstating the sanctity of marriage, and promoting the proper care of children.  Being single, while sometimes unavoidable, is not God’s plan for families.  We must help single mothers carve out an ethical lifestyle that is beneficial to their children and pleasing to God.  For instance, we must provide guidelines and suggestions for a healthy dating life which in turn will promote healthier marriages.

The Family Circles are responsible for defending the integrity of the Black family in the face of regulations that will divide and destroy.  The Circle must define a list of advocates – a group of people to help the community navigate government policies that go against the African American community and the Church.  This opposition must also leave room for cooperation with the government as there are programs which benefit the family that the African American community must take advantage of.

This African American Family Circle Initiative addresses the needs of the African American family by focusing on the core of our community, facing problems head-on, developing innovative strategies to implement change, and enforcing new socially beneficial norms.  While it is unrealistic to foresee these problems evaporating overnight, especially considering the steep statistical disadvantage in nearly every arena, the National Black Church Initiative will work diligently to realize a transformation for the Black family.  

Procedures

The Healing Circles must agree to the Faith Command Leader’s recommendation for Chairman/Chairwoman for the Family Circle in the corresponding geographic area.  These recommendations will be gathered from pastors – to be considered for Chairman/Chairwoman you must be in good standing with your church.

The Healing Circles must agree to implement all strategies, moral edicts, and other solutions discussed in the Family Circle.

The Healing Circle must follow all disciplinary guidelines issued by the National Black Church Initiative and the Faith Command Leader.

The Healing Circle Chair must attend all national meetings or designate an approved substitute.

The Healing Circle must raise a minimum of $100,000 per year and provide the National Black Church Initiative with 30% of all monies raised for the purposes of overhead and administration of the national Initiative.

The Healing Circles must report all income to the National Black Church Initiative and keep acceptable records of the following – salaries, audits, purchases, and all financial records.

The Healing Circles must accept the National Black Church Initiative as a signatory on all financial accounts associated with the Healing Circles.  The National Black Church Initiative must have access to all accounts – there will be no exception.

The Healing Circle Chairman/Chairwoman must submit a resume and one-page letter to the National Black Church Initiative outlining experience and qualifications for the position.

 



[1] Franklin, Robert M. Crisis in the Village: Restoring Hope in African American Communities. Fortress Press, 2007.

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