I couldn't believe what I was hearing. There I was, sitting in Spike Lee's fancy hotel suite with an impressive gathering of black intellectuals and celebrities, men I have been idolizing for most of my life. We had just finished a heated panel discussion on black athletes. Some of the panelists had gravitated to Spike's room to continue the discussion. Jim Brown was stating in his usual forceful way that any black child who grows up without a father in their home was doomed to failure. I looked around to see if there were going to be any objections, and nobody said a word. Everyone was shaking their heads in agreement with what Jim Brown was saying. But, I couldn't sit there quietly and allow that statement to remain unchallenged. It would have been a betrayal to my single mother who raised me and my little brother by herself. I found myself defending an entire younger generation to a group of black intellectuals. I have all the respect in the world for Jim Brown. He has always been one of the athletes I've looked to as a pioneer. Someone who stood up for what he believed in no matter whom he was standing up against. I have a picture in my office of him sitting at a table next to Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul jabbar, Bill Russell and a host of other top black athletes at the time showing their support for Muhammad Ali when he refused to enlist into the army. But on this night, the person standing up to him was me. He wasn't pleased, but I just couldn't sit quietly and allow them to say what they were saying.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau in November, 2009, there are approximately 13.7 million single parents in the United States today, and those parents are responsible for raising 21.8 million children (approximately 26 percent).
Although having a single parent household may not be the most favorable situation, it is reality for a quarter of all kids in America today. Why shower them with negative statistics and lower their expectations and possibilities in life?
No one can deny that the statistics are alarming:
*63 percent of youth suicides are from fatherless homes (U.S. Dept. Of Health/Census) -- five times the average.
*90 percent of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes -- 32 times the average.
*85 percent of all children who show behavior disorders come from fatherless homes -- 20 times the average. (Center for Disease Control)
*80 percent of rapists with anger problems come from fatherless homes -- 14 times the average. (Justice and Behavior, Vol 14, p. 403-26)
*71 percent of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes -- Nine times the average. (National Principals Association Report)
*75 percent of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers come from fatherless homes -- 10 times the average. (Rainbows for All God's Children)
*70 percent of youths in state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes -- 9 times the average. (U.S. Dept. of Justice, Sept. 1988)
*85 percent of all youths in prison come from fatherless homes -- 20 times the average. (Fulton Co. Dept. of Correction)
Young people need to be encouraged that they can be anything their hearts desire to be no matter what their situation or circumstance is. Will there be obstacles? Yes. Will it be easy? Absolutely not. But there are too many examples of men who were able to be successful and make the right decisions who came from so called "broken homes." Most notably, President Barack Obama. That's not to say that he didn't still feel the pain and anger of not having his father there.
President Barack Obama described in Dreams of My Father of seeing the family of his wife for the first time as the vision of domestic bliss. Upon seeing the joy of the Robinson house, for someone like me who had barely known his father, who had spent much of his life traveling from place to place, his bloodline scattered to the fore winds, the home that Fraizer and Marian Robinson had built for themselves stirred a longing for stability, a sense of place that I had not realized was there.
It is seen by his words how deep the feeling for a father can remain in the heart of someone years after they have reached adulthood. It can affect their lives and their future. President Barack Obama is also the perfect example of someone who has been able to be successful despite that missing connection in their lives. It is possible. We have to be very careful of discouraging young people before they even begin on their journey.
On the eve of Father's Day Weekend in 2009 at a White House Town Hall, the president made these powerful and inspirational statements:
I say this as someone who grew up without a father in my life. I had a heroic mom and wonderful grandparents who helped raise me and my sister, and it is because of them that I am able to stand here today. But despite all their extraordinary love and attention, that didn't mean that I didn't feel my father's absence. That's something that leaves a hole in a child's heart...
Some of the young men who are here today might have their own concerns one day about being a dad. Some of you may be worried that if you didn't have a father, that you may not know how to be one when your turn comes. Some of you might even use that as an excuse to say well, if my dad wasn't around, why should I be. Let's be clear, because your own father wasn't there for you is no excuse for you to be absent also. It's all the more reason to be present. There is no rule that says you have to repeat your father's mistakes. Just the opposite. You have an obligation to break the cycle and to learn from those mistakes. To rise up where your own fathers fell short and to do better with your own children. That's what I try to do in my life. When my daughters were born I made a pledge to them and myself that I would do everything I could to give them the things I didn't have. And I decided that if I could be one thing in life, it would be to be a good father. I haven't always known exactly how to do that. I've made my share of mistakes. I had to ask a lot of questions. But I have also learned from men that I admire.
That's why I wrote this fatherhood book. Not because I believe I am some fatherhood expert who has all the answers nor am I here to publicly join in the chorus of the mainstream in bashing our people and placing the blame solely on our shoulders which is what it appears that many media outlets attempt to turn my message into. It's evident at the beginning of their interviews. Let me be clear, (in my President Obama voice), my reason for putting this book together is to inspire an entire young generation who is growing up without fathers in their homes. The statistics say that 1 in 4 kids, black, white, brown, yellow, all American kids, are growing up without a father in their homes. My goal is to use the stories of these men from Tony Dungy to Dr. Cornell West from Ice Cube to Talib Kweli, Roland Martin and John King from CNN, Arn Tellem, Mumia Abul Jamal, Ed Gordon, Chris Paul, Allan Houston,Will Downing, Coach John Thompson, Grant Hill, Derek Fisher and Billy Hunter to Derrick Coleman, Pastor John K Jenkins,, David Aldridge and Stuart Scott, Dave Zirin and John Carlos to Tito Puente Jr. to Damian Marley to Yao Ming from Kevin Durant to Michael Moore, Congressman Elijah Cummings and Howard Dean to Chuck D, Kareem Abdul Jabbar to Taye Diggs to Tony Hawk , Andre Agassi, and Al Sharpton, Kevin Powell, Lamman Rucker, Styles P, Russ Parr, and Isaiah Washington. Al Horford, Joe Johnson, Baron Davis, Joakim Noah, and Malcolm Jamal Warner to inspire them to believe that they can make it and be successful in life. To show them the beauty of fatherhood, not from a shaking my finger at them standpoint. They get enough of that from adults. But from the sharing of other's experiences. None of us are fatherhood experts, I don't even think there is any such thing, but we can all learn from each other.
So now, I am turning this book into a fatherhood movement. Continuing to interview men and display them on my website. Doing panels and town hall discussions in different cities across the nation. All in an effort to inspire an entire generation to believe in themselves no matter what negativity, statistics, or discouragement they are being bombarded with. This is the book and movement I wish I and so many young men and women who came from single parent households had when we were growing up. The stories of these men and most notably President Obama, could have encouraged a lot of people that I grew up with. My overall goal is to inspire an entire generation.
Photo credit: Kendall Crabtree
This is a picture of a panel last week at Crenshaw Christian East Church In Manhattan New York Last Week with Dave Zirin, Abiodun Oyewole of The Last Poets, Billy Hunter, Tito Puente Jr. Jorge Andreas of ESPN, Myself, Malcolm Shabazz, and Lenny Greene of WBLS.