Bob Herbert is a respected and decorated opinion columnist for The New York Times. On the paper’s website he’s referred to as a journalist known for his “fearless articulation of unpopular truths.”
This past Monday Mr. Herbert lived up to his billing when he opined about the heartbreaking state of the African-American family.
The veteran columnist served up a one-two punch. After noting that black boys and girls are three times more likely to live in single-parent households than white children and twice as likely to have a parent without a full-time job, he dove directly into the heart of the crisis:
The first and most important step (to fix the problem) would be a major effort to begin knitting the black family back together. There is no way to overstate the myriad risks faced by children whose parents have effectively abandoned them. It’s the family that protects the child against ignorance and physical harm, that offers emotional security and the foundation for a strong sense of self, that enables a child to believe — truly — that wonderful things are possible.
He continued in blunt fashion:
Black men need to be in the home, providing for their children. The community at large — including the many who have done well, who have secured a place in the middle or upper classes — needs to coalesce to provide support and assistance to those still struggling.
Of course, every word of Mr. Herbert’s is applicable to families of other races, too. The disintegration of the family in America today is a color-blind problem, though statistics indicate the crisis is worse in the African-American community. (A third of black children live below the poverty line, more than 70% are born out-of-wedlock and the majority of men in their 30s without a high school diploma have been in prison.)
Interestingly, Bob Herbert’s stinging analysis and recommendations mirror those of the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY). The former New York Senator, who was abandoned by his own father as a young boy, presciently warned in 1965 about the rising rate of illegitimacy within the black community. Back then, the “Moynihan Report” was released to howls of protest. Many suggested it exaggerated the problem, others labeled it junk science or racially insensitive.
The criticism took its toll, but time has validated and vindicated the late senator’s scholarship and “radical” conclusions.
At the time the report was published in 1965, 25 percent of African-American children were born to unmarried parents. The Senator predicted catastrophe for the black family if the root cause wasn’t addressed and the trend reversed. Sadly, it only got much worse. To underscore that this crisis is a culture-wide phenomenon, consider that the white illegitimacy rate today is now worse than the black rate was in 1965.
There are no simple or quick-fixes for problems that for decades have gathered in both scope and intensity. However, one of the main reasons we’re here at Focus is to do whatever we can to help turn this troubling and tragic tide.
First and foremost, by helping to open minds to the Gospel. We cannot expect to change a person’s behavior or break a bad and destructive habit until the individual has had a change of heart.
Second, by teaching young and old about the beauty of marriage and the value of committed, lifelong relationships.
Third, by encouraging families to adopt or welcome abandoned and orphaned children. Our Wait No More program, along with a number of similar efforts in the Christian community, has helped couples bring scared and lonely children home to loving and stable permanent families.
The problem has been stated. The challenges and needs are clear. Are you willing to roll up your sleeves and get involved? Perhaps you might consider being a mentor to a young man being raised in a single-mother home? Or maybe you might look for other ways to help out a struggling single mom in your community? Have you ever considered volunteering for prison ministry?
The problem is overwhelming, but the Lord is big enough to transcend, transform and redeem any crisis. We are simply called to be faithful and do our part. I’m grateful for people like Bob Herbert for calling out this tragic problem on the national stage.