Absent fathers blamed for blacks' problems

October 11, 2003|By GREGORY KANE

JAWANZA KUNJUFU, author, lecturer, educational consultant and inveterate truth-teller, stood at a podium Thursday night and told several truths.

"You know," Kunjufu told several hundred people gathered in one of several theaters of the Murphy Fine Arts Building on the campus of Morgan State University, "black folks love blaming the white man for everything. But if racism ended tonight, would [African-American] SAT scores increase? Would the [African-American] dropout rate decrease?"

Seeing that none of the assembled was reaching for either tar or feathers, Kunjufu continued with some more truth.

"I don't believe our major problem is racism," said Kunjufu, as if he were speaking not only to those in the theater, but also to all of the nation's 30 million-plus African-Americans. "The greatest demon in black America is fatherlessness. The common variable for the [African-American] dropout rate, the incarceration rate and drug use is the daddy didn't stay."

FOR THE RECORD - Gregory Kane's column Saturday incorrectly quoted a statistic provided by author and lecturer Jawanza Kunjufu at a program at Morgan State University. Kunjufu said 80 percent of black families had a father at home in 1960. The current figure is 32 percent, he said.

Only 32 percent of black families, Kunjufu noted, have a father in the home. That's down from - and these are his figures - 90 percent in 1920 and 80 percent in 1980.

"Slavery did not destroy the black family," Kunjufu concluded.

Kunjufu was in town as the main speaker for a program sponsored by the African American Male Leadership Institute and the Urban Leadership Institute, which organizers called, without any sense of hyperbole, a "state of emergency."

Richard Rowe and Earl El Amin, leaders of the African American Male Leadership Institute and co-hosts of a show on Morgan's radio station WEAA, aren't given to histrionics. Rowe took credit for the sentence at the top of the printed program for the event:

"Seventy-five percent of the City's Black males, over the course of their school careers, drop out of school before graduation."

That statistic has been disputed. Vanessa Pyatt, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore schools, said that for the school year that ended in June, 1,564 of 12,281 black boys in grades nine through 12 dropped out, a percentage of 12.74.

Pyatt said that data comes from the Maryland State Department of Education Web site. Rowe said his comes from a Brookings Institution study done in April last year.

Unfortunately, Baltimore is a town where black folks can pick their emergencies.

Assuming the MSDE figures are correct and the Brookings Institution's are way off, there's still that other study, released in May, which found that 95 percent of entering freshmen at Baltimore City Community College needed remedial help in math and 65 percent needed remedial help in reading.

Because many of BCCC's freshmen are black students educated in Baltimore public schools, the state of emergency would exist even if the dropout rate were zero percent.

So Rowe and El Amin - we have El Amin to thank for adding the word blackologist (one of those black folks who blame white folks for everything) to the lexicon - brought Kunjufu in to utter some truth and rouse people to action.

Kunjufu didn't disappoint. He told the truth by giving some stats here or making some pronouncements there that should be obvious to all, but have to be spoken several times in this politically correct age ("Boys are different from girls").

At times he drove the truth home through anecdotes.

Kunjufu, who spent a year at Towson University and Morgan in 1973 under an exchange program with Illinois State University, from which he graduated in 1974, lives in Chicago. He told of a friend of his, a policeman who caught a 12-year-old boy out at 11:30 on a school night drinking a beer. The cop took the boy home to his mother, who was high on crack.

"It gets worse," Kunjufu warned his audience before he continued.

The second tale was about a mother who had come to school to clear up a problem with her 9-year-old son. She had in tow a baby in her arms and a 2-year-old boy with a pacifier in his mouth. When the baby started wailing, the principal came out and asked the mother to quiet the child. The 2-year-old took the pacifier from his mouth and told the principal, "Look, [expletive] step off."

"Can any of us," Kunjufu wondered after telling the story, "teach kids to respect authority when parents don't do their jobs?"

It takes a black man with a name like Jawanza Kunjufu to say these things. If a Clarence Thomas or Thomas Sowell or a - well, fill in the name of any black conservative here - said the same things, he'd be called any one of a number of epithets. The fact is, black conservatives have said, practically verbatim, many of the things Kunjufu said and been called all those things.

But isn't the truth the truth, no matter who speaks it?

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