Femi AwodeleFriday, February 23, 2007



he timing of the empowerment network in Omaha led by Willie Barney is truly inspired as there are many individual efforts of people tired of the status quo that are now being coordinated. After the first public forum where I was privileged to speak on healthy families, a few people came to me for what I think the solutions are, Ms. Donna Carter of Omaha Urban Connection (www.omahaurbanconnection.com) went further and ask that I write 5-10 practical things that an average family and the community can do to improve the African-American family next year in Omaha.

The problem and where we are

In 1960, 75% of the African-American children were being raised in a two married parent home by 1970 that number went down to 57% and by 1995 the number was 33% (this number is 38% in Omaha - 2006). In 2003 the jail/prison population in America rose to over 2 million and African-Americans make up 39.2% of that number (most are men between ages 20-39), considering the fact that we make up only 14% of the country (In Nebraska African-Americans are 4% of the population but make up 25% of the prison population). Nationwide the rate of high school drop out among our community is more than 50% (this number varies greatly - depending on who you believe). According to Yolanda Young of USAToday, there are ten African-American [Educated] sister to one brother (as a conference speaker who travels the nation I know this is true).

The value system among our community has gone south, while we want to support black businesses, I personally cannot let my children watch BET because of half naked women gyrating to music with lyrics that you'll have to cover the kids hears. The heroes of the African-American young men and women are Snoop-dog, Puff-diddy, Foxy Brown, Lil' Kim and 50 cents, when you watch their music videos women are disrespected and turned into toys to be played around with, hence there is very low self-esteem among our women. When parents buy cloths for their daughters (as young as five years old) they are so revealing they might as well be naked, even the mom's blouse reveals more of her breast than it covers.

I'll summarize the problems as follows

  1. Disappearing two parents home.
  2. Baby daddy and baby mommy syndrome (Out of wedlock children)
  3. Large number of the men in and out of jail
  4. Lack of education and instant gratification mentality (instant wealth through music, drug trafficking and sports)
  5. Lack of adults to model appropriate behaviors and draw boundaries for the children, which is what God require of parents (Malachi 2: 13-16).
  6. Single parenting (67% of the African-American homes are headed by a single parent)


What are we to do?

There are many efforts already by many organizations and individuals to effect change in African-American homes and they need to be commended. In Omaha, there are many transitional homes, many mentoring programs, marriage education programs, political activism to change policies that affect the home and many more.

The solution to the problems plaguing the African-American home has to be three pronged, the first must be faith based, the church has played a crucial role in the lives of an average African-American and it is part of the culture. Leaders in church and other house of worship are highly regarded and esteemed. Secondly, there must be education for every group from the teenagers, to young adults, to singles, to married folks and for the older adults on handling the empty nest syndrome. Lastly, the policy makers among us must seek to pass or support laws that are friendly to a two parent home rather than the current laws that penalize low-income married folks.

Faith based Solutions

Churches and other houses of worship are the one place that the African-American family visits once a week, it is imperative for the pastors to have programs that support and encourage strong families, from organizing weekend retreats or seminars for couples, women and men, to celebrating vow renewals and recognizing wedding anniversaries within the church. As Apostle Paul told Timothy, men whose home is not well managed should not be put in positions of authority because they are examples to other members.

A parish/branch pastor of a local assembly should recognize his/her limitations and send couples with major problems to professionals that share the faith and their value system.

Education based solutions

There are two statements in the Bible that support seeking knowledge. The first one is "my people perish for lack of knowledge" and the second statement is "and you shall know the truth and the truth [you know] will set you free". As a newly wed who had attended church all my life and knew many bible stories, I really had no idea on Biblical principles regarding relationships. As I travel worldwide now and share these principles I've discovered that many Christians don't know many of what I'm sharing even though these principles are right there in the Bible (supported by today's scientific research findings).

The education need to be about dating or courting, what to look for in a mate, and some pre-marriage education. We need to educate our teenagers on sexuality, dangers of instant gratuity, drugs, and how to deal with negative peer pressure. Our single adults need to be taught how to remain pure until their wedding night and the married need to be educated on how to enrich their marriage.

Having knowledge is one thing applying the knowledge is another; we can organize seminars everyday of the week, if folks don't go home and do what they are thought they would only get fat on information (we need lots of prayer here). We also need to change the stereotype that any one going for counseling or going for a marriage class must have problem, in reality we all know that all of us could use some help in our relationships.

Policy based solution

My wife as a physician has always complained to me about the welfare law that out-rightly cuts off a young single mother who is trying to make life better for herself, she gets cut off the system abruptly/totally because her income increases from $7/hr to $9/hr, so most people would rather stay on the welfare roll than earn $9.00/hour that wont meet all the need provided by HHS when on full welfare. Our elected officials need to take a very close look at the existing welfare laws, and strike out laws that gives out fish rather than teach the person how to fish.

As someone that mentors engaged couples, I saw the need in the area of pre-marriage education and I'm working with some state organizations and concerned individuals to pass a bill (LB696) in Nebraska this (hopefully) legislative year. I know other groups (and individuals) in our community working to get rid of the marriage penalty tax law.

Solutions (Individually and collectively)

a.. There need to be more opportunities for relationship education in north Omaha - starting with churches and organizations taking the lead. We need to work together and plan regular classes that focus on parenting, conflict management, money management, knowing who to marry and other relationship issues.

a.. There need to be a big focus on the men we need a forum where the men of the city are brought together on a regular basis (perhaps monthly or quarterly) for education and practical ways of dealing with issues. The transitional homes in Omaha need to come together and strategize a long term (at least 12 months), curriculum and faith based program that would hopefully change our men (Chaplain Morris Jackson of Good News Jail/Prison ministry is a great resource in this area, so also are my friends at Teen challenge of the Midwest).

I would strongly recommend that the various pastoral organizations come together for a yearly men's conference with local speakers targeted at north Omaha men, 2007 would be a good year to start.

We need to somehow change the heroes our kids adore to their mom and dad or someone in the community rather than Snoop dog or Foxy Brown.

a.. Each one of us (in a healthy marriage) need to adopt a single mother, help her with setting up a budget, discipline of the kids, how she need to maintain her purity and show examples to the kids. The mentors should help with the discipline of a strong-willed child of a single parent, when a single mother or father has relationship with you, they'll trust you to discipline their child.

a.. The pastoral leadership of north Omaha needs to put aside their differences and come together and work within a set framework. The Bible challenges those of us called by His name, to humble ourselves, turn from our ways, seek His face, and then He will hear from heaven and heal our land.

There are over 40,000 un-churched African-Americans in Omaha we need to think outside the box for ways to evangelize them. The pastoral leadership can commission a marketing company to survey why our folks are not going to church, so our strategies can be more direct and be on target (CELNET did the survey for the whole city).

a.. Media outlets in north Omaha (print, video, audio) need to celebrate educational achievements not only of heroes past but of current young black men and women graduating from medical schools, and those with PhDs etc. There need to be a celebration of marriages over 50 years and examples of a healthy home need to be portrayed regularly (please note that there is no perfect home).

a.. Changing the status quo starts with each individual - there are 168 hours in a week, 40 of those hours are spent in school or at work, and 4 hours is spent in church (at the most) that leaves 124 hours to be spent together as a family.

a.. Many scholars and studies agree on six characteristics of (or what constitute) a healthy home

As a family (whatever form) decide which of the things described above you can adopt into your family routine in 2007, as an organization what are those things that we can bring to the table in the new year, and as a Church what programs can we put in place that will prepare and enrich marriages and families in 2007?

It is my prayer that God will give us the strength, courage and grace to apply the knowledge we have acquired.

Femi Awodele is a member of the African-American Empowerment Network, an informal group of black leaders in Omaha covenanting with their community to bring about positive change.