Black Families at a Crossroads

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WASHINGTON - More than 40 years ago, a government official named Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned that African American families were falling apart.

In 1965, one-quarter of black children were born out of wedlock. Today, it's more than two-thirds.

But some African American leaders are working hard to re-establish the black family.

Meet the Peebles

For Joel and Ylawnda Peebles, it's hard enough to keep pace with their own busy schedules... not to mention their four active children.

Their oldest, Joel, Jr. plays on the basketball team, and daughter Janay stomps on the sidelines with the cheer squad. Their other boys Jordan and Jeremiah are always nearby.

Amazingly, their parents say they never miss their kids' events.

"For us, family's always first. Always," Ylawnda said.

Joel and Ylawnda serve as pastors at Jericho City of Praise - a large, predominantly black church in suburban Washington, D.C.

They also host a weekly radio program on marriage and relationships. But for the Peebles, their number one priority is parenting.

To them, putting family first means praying together, spending time with one another and even trying to sit down for the occasional family meal.

"Sometimes we make it seven days a week with our busy schedules to make sure we have dinner together with our whole family," Joel laughed.

"Even if we have to eat in the car," his wife added.

Research shows that children living with both their mothers and fathers tend to be healthier, emotionally and physically.

The Importance of Positive Role Models

But ministering to a predominantly African American congregation, Joel and Ylawnda know they don't represent today's "typical" black family.

Joel says that's because young people don't have enough positive role models, particularly when it comes to black men.

"There are men at the basketball courts all over the place and all over the country - African American men - that are doing an amazing job, but on the same token, there are some ones with disconnect. And I'm going to be very honest with you the children are struggling," Joel said.

With that in mind, Joel knows he's making a lasting impression.

Joel said, "One of the things that I realize is that when my children grow up, my sons are going to be the kind of man that I am, and my daughter is probably going to marry the kind of man that I am - so modeling that's huge. It's critical in order for their maturation and for them to become what God has for them."

Outside of the home, Joel spends a lot of his time ministering to men, urging them to be responsible parents.

It is a theme echoed in the book Come on People by Bill Cosby and long-time friend and noted psychiatrist Dr. Alvin Poussaint.

"People say 'what are you doing with a chapter on parenting?' because we feel that that's fundamental in building character; building a sense of self-worth in children and a lot of parents don't know how to be good parents," Poussaint said.

The book exploded onto the scene in the Fall of 2007 and has been making waves since -- the result of years of collaborative work that produced family-oriented programs such as The Cosby Show.

But Come On People became reality only after TV's favorite dad made polarizing remarks criticizing black culture for its widespread use of profanity, gansta rap, and black-on-black crime.

"We got to stop this madness," Cosby said.

In the book, the authors use startling statistics to drive home their point.

School drop out rates have skyrocketed, homicide is now the leading cause of death among young black men. And over the past several decades the suicide rate among that demographic has increased more than 100-percent.

And about 70 percent of African American babies born each year go home to single mothers.

Bill Cosby - All Jokes Aside…

So why has the once loveable comedian put aside his jokes and instead taken his message to community "call outs" across the country?

Poussaint says for Cosby it's personal.

"You have to realize he spent a lot of his career and a lot of other activities supporting education, trying to set people on the right path, trying to be a role model," he said.

"So I think when he looked and saw the figures and just looked in his communities and saw all of these not making it - and not only that- having values that were anti-education and pro-thug values and engaging in a lot of violence and dope and so on, he just thought it was awful and felt very frustrated and a bit angry," Poussaint explained.

Some have rallied behind the message - but critics just as strongly reject it. They describe it as "elitist" and a "slam on the poor" saying it does nothing more than "air" the community's "dirty laundry."

But Poussaint says their goal is to spark change and get people to rise above victim mentality.

"We wanted to emphasize what people could do for themselves. We didn't deny systemic racism or institutional racism, but we felt there were a lot of areas that we had control over in the black community where we could make a difference," he said.

Couples such as the Peebles are making a difference, in the lives of their community, but it starts at home - leaving a legacy of faith, family and culture they believe is not only a score for today's children, but a win for the next generation and beyond.

*Original broadcast February 25, 2008.

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John Jessup

John Jessup

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