African American families used to have family meetings to figure out the issues, determine the steps needed to shore up the crumbling family infrastructure, and then hold people accountable for the improvements. Now keeping in mind—these weren’t long meetings. The meetings weren’t for blaming or shaming people about missteps or dropping the ball. These meetings focused on the here and now and how to get to a better place. Elders imparted wisdom about race and racism in the context of their situations. Those who left the South during the Great Exodus sent funds back home to keep the church and burial grounds maintained. They made sure the taxes were paid on the land so that no one could foreclose on it. Currently, black farmers have lost millions of acres of land and very few family members see the connection between that loss and our economic disenfranchisement.
From whatever vantage point you participate in the African American community; our walls are crumbling. The Civil Rights struggle has been on-going since Reconstruction with significant gains culminating with legislation outlawing segregation. We’ve undergone moments of coming together against a common enemy yet splintered into factions and small groups. Why, you wonder? We’re fractured because we don’t agree on strategies, leadership, or messaging. We’ve experienced mountain top experiences as well as abject defeat. I believe we took too long celebrating our victories while the “losers” were plotting our eventual downfall.
There is opposition to the restoration of the black family, hostility toward robust black communities filled with commerce, viable social institutions, religious traditions, and peaceful streets. Multiple individuals and institutions benefit from our disarray. We’ve been researched, studied, and analyzed by sociologists, psychologists, urban planners and everyone with an agenda. Usually, the proposed scheme at its core is to marginalize us, neutralize us, or exterminate us unless we come together as a family. Look at the years of urban renewal which was about “black dispersion” and reclamation of land for other purposes that did not include us. The unintended consequences of forced bussing and school desegregation resulted in fewer black educators and too many of our children fighting for academic survival because they still face racism and isolation in primarily white academic settings.
At our family meetings, I want us to focus on what Dr. Robert Hill wrote in The Strengths of Black Families (1972) which begins by identifying five family strengths, which for blacks constitute “adaptations necessary for survival and advancement in a hostile environment.”
- Strong kinship bonds
- Strong work orientation
- Adaptability of family roles, a response to economic necessities on the part of black, low-income families
- High achievement orientation
- Religious orientation.
Why is it important to focus on our strengths? When Nehemiah in the Old Testament learns that the walls of Jerusalem were broken down and asked the king for permission to return and rebuild them, he built on strength, not weakness. We identify, organize and use our resources. The Million Man March is a perfect example we have and use those. Twenty years after the Million Man March, we can still be proud of the impact of that event with two outcomes of the march that positively influenced black families. First, there was a steady rise in black voting rates after 1996. The black turnout rate increased by about 13 percent between 1996 and 2012, but current voter suppression efforts are about erasing those gains. There would be no reason to disenfranchise African Americans if our votes did not matter. Our strength is both numerical and in intent. When we focus on a candidate or an issue, we are unstoppable. That is a strength and we need to harness it.
The second outcome which received little press other than from the National Association of Black Social Workers is that thousands of families inquired about adoption after the Million Man March. The group attributed more than 300 adoptions to the rally. The percentage of black children in the foster-care system decreased between 2004 and 2013. However, African American children enter and remain in the foster-care system at a disproportionately higher rate in comparison with children of other races. Our children often age out of foster care with no family resources to assist them. As a result, they end up homeless and often drug-addicted. We cannot continue to lose children to a system that cannot replicate family in any meaningful way. At eighteen, no young person can adequately manage the daily aspects of living: food, clothing, and shelter without assistance.
This family meeting is long overdue for us to reestablish kinship boundaries. Some of us are so busy doing our own thing that we are losing touch with the fact that this life is about more than us individually. We have a responsibility to family, to God, to our race, and to the universe.
Every family member has a role to play in our struggle. It’s time for a family meeting.
-Joyce A. Brown
Joyce Brown is a motivational speaker and author who uses her creative energy to give voice and meaning to the challenges women face in all walks of life. She grew up in Rockford, Illinois in a household of strong women. She graduated from Bradley University with a B.S. and M.A. Her professional career expanded her reach into Peoria, Illinois; and Battle Creek, Michigan. Joyce obtained a PhD from Western Michigan University.
She is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and has served as a direct services worker, executive director, program director for a major foundation, and an entrepreneur. Joyce has experienced many uplifting moments as a professional and as a dedicated parent and strives to bring those events and lessons to life through her characters in the contemporary fiction novels she pens.
Image: Raise Up, a sculpture by Hank Willis Thomas, on the grounds of the new National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala., April 20, 2018. Dedicated to the victims of American white supremac