- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Black Americans' long history of faith in God and their embrace of the extended family qualifies them to take the lead in solving many of America's social problems, speakers told a conference on black families yesterday.

"Because African Americans experienced the most cruel form of slavery in the history of the world it was based on the destruction of the family we have a responsibility to lead the nation and the world in restoring the family," the Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy told the "Making the Dream Real: Empowering Our Families, Communities and Nation: Black America's Contribution to the 21st Century" conference, which began yesterday at the Sheraton National Hotel in Arlington.

Black Americans shouldn't be disheartened by the current problems plaguing many of their families, said Mr. Fauntroy, a former D.C. delegate. "We have an amazing record of going from 100 percent of children born out of wedlock in 1865," when slaves weren't allowed to marry, "to having 80 percent of children born to married couples in 1898," he said.

The conference, which continues today, is sponsored by the American Family Coalition, National Congress of Black Women (NCBW) and The Washington Times Foundation.

Several speakers recalled how black Americans turned to faith to survive the horrors of slavery.

Blacks in antebellum America were also isolated and had to learn to nurture and comfort each other, regardless of whether they were related by blood, said Frances Ballard, president of the Institute for Responsible Fatherhood and Family Revitalization. This tradition lives on black Americans often call each other by family names such as sister, brother, auntie, uncle and cousin, she said.

The civil rights era finally ended blacks' second-class citizenship, but "we as a people forgot to tell our children who we are," said Pat Ware, executive director of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.

"When integration came, America was going through a sexual revolution. But instead of holding onto those values that kept us together as a people through slavery, racism, Jim Crow and lynchings, we turned and embraced this other stuff," said Mrs. Ware. "And it's gotten us to a place we never thought we'd be," she said, referring to high rates of black-on-black violence, unwed childbearing and the absence of fathers in black households.

Some of the solutions to problems facing black Americans today include "charitable choice," partnerships with government, churches and nonprofit organizations, said Norman Macklin, a leader of faith-based initiatives in New York.

Robert L. Woodson Sr., president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, said caring people in many communities have already turned around youth gangs by nurturing them, guiding them and helping them find jobs. "It's a myth" that young men won't give up the drug trade for a $6.50-an-hour job, said Mr. Woodson. Children can be transformed if their moral and spiritual emptiness is filled, he said.

"No people are more qualified to lead the world into racial harmony than black Americans," said the Rev. Chung Hwan Kwak, chairman of The Washington Times Foundation.

Black spirituality "is a reservoir this nation can draw upon," said the Rev. Anthony J. Flores, a leader of the American Family Coalition.

Yesterday's sessions also featured NCBW President C. Delores Tucker, Miss Black USA Lisa Miree, the Rev. Dr. T. L. Barrett of the Church in God in Christ of Chicago, and a former New Jersey secretary of state, the Rev. DeForest Soaries.

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