This Ain’t the Cosbys, Or Is It? Challenges Facing African-American Families

Monday, October 22, 2007, 04:18 PM
Posted by Danielle Durst

Studying South African apartheid will be eye-opening, especially with its connection and relationship to American race relations. To see how intricately they apply, we were challenged to study what we see daily and what role our personal history plays in the place of Blacks in 2007. We read two articles “African-American Families in Cultural Perspective” and “African-American Families in Historical Perspective” as well as an account of a young woman and her struggle to attend college during the Civil Rights period;it was Charlayne Hunter-Gault’s autobiography entitled In My Place.

The first two articles gave a reality check of where we stand today: “declining marriage rates and the rising phenomena of baby daddies and baby mommas,” the percentage of unmarried black males and females, as well as the influence of hip-hop culture. The articles also delved into the deep connections between slavery, emancipation, and urbanization; African heritage was lost during slavery, the diluting of family units during urbanization, and the educational division through emancipation all contribute to the declining state of Black America. These readings set the stage for an interactive discussion we had with four community members who work firsthand to combat the challenges African-Americans face.

Charles Dingle, William Galtis, Melinda Freeman, and Dwayne Chambers all active members in the North Carolina community shared stories, experiences, and opinions on the African American family and community. Here we were challenged to see the importance of every individual’s influence, as well as the need to continue supporting a level educational playing field. Mr. Chambers, working with juveniles at an area correction center, gave insight into the mindset of the many delinquent young people he encounters. He explained the belief and drive for many young people to earn the fast buck and in many situations the only buck to reach their basic needs of food and shelter. He talked about the vicious cycle of repeated offenses that have young people spending their whole lives in correctional facilities. Ms. Freeman, a current middle school teacher, with 20-years experience with public health, has a great passion for education. She shared her desire for young men in particular to succeed against the false images of the media and complete their education, what she calls “their ticket.”

Through these readings, conversations, and personal accounts I have come to the ever evolving belief that one person’s legacy is the greatest impact for future generations. Let me show you what past generations have left. We are forever in debt to those who experienced slavery. For far too long they were the primary economic source for the United States. Their legacy is a quest for communication and familial unity. They were in a foreign land with no ability to communicate-a basic human right. Song became their main form of communication. They passed news, strategic plans and lifted their spirits through song. This determination to communicate their desires and faith has been passed on to subsequent generations. They also left the importance of family. Despite the constant destruction of families during slavery, slaves strove to build families and connect with their tribal heritage. “…the family was the one place in which African Americans could find refuge.” (Dixon, 14)) It was often the source of survival. Even slave owners realized the benefits of keeping families together, “a man, it was reasoned, who had emotional ties to a family, was less likely to rebel or run away than one who was not.” (Dixon, 15) These kept our ancestors together. Communication and family were the legacies of our slave past.

During emancipation, the idea of unity was brought to a completely different level. The bond among blacks helped the community overcome segregation. Segregation brought the community together. It put all blacks on a level playing field- toward a common cause, freedome. The common cause wasn’t “capping people with your gang” or getting more “bling”, but it was achievement. Segregation became an issue on buses, in restaurants, and in schools. Blacks deserved and demanded the right to learn at the same level as whites. This fundamental human right to learn was supported with the desegregation of schools- and the achievement of the Civil Rights Movement. Our ancestors left a passion to strive for excellence, a demand for a right to voice opinion, and the importance of the black community. These elements are what propelled African-American lives to the next level.

The question now is what will our legacy be? What will generations say we did? Are we tackling the next hurdle for our race? Where is the black community going next? These are the questions and challenges. Now is our chance to take the legacies our ancestors made and leave our mark for our children and our children’s children.

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