- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The “dissolution of the traditional marriage” has led to the demise of today’s youth, according to D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray.

“We need to figure out how to bring families back together again,” he said.

Mr. Gray, known for his extensive work with at-risk children while he was executive director of Covenant House Washington, explained how the lack of male and female role models - specifically the lack of fathers in the home - is a major cause for concern.

Mr. Gray spoke at an advance screening of CNN’s “Black in America 2,” which airs at 9 tonight and at 8 p.m. on Thursday. The documentary is the second part of an investigation into one of the most challenging issues facing black Americans.

The June 30 advance screening included a panel discussion in which Mr. Gray was joined by WPGC-FM Community Affairs Director Justine Love; D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr., Ward 5 Democrat; D.C. Council member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat; University of the District of Columbia President Allen Sessoms; Clerk of the House of Representatives Lorraine C. Miller; and others.

The panelists discussed issues concerning the plight of today’s youth, what it takes to make them successful and the causes of why they are not.

“You are what you think and what you see,” Mr. Barry said, explaining how many youths suffer from low self-esteem. “We have to change how they think and what they see.”

Teen pregnancy, obesity, poverty, substance abuse and domestic abuse are some of the pathologies attributed to absentee fathers, the National Fatherhood Initiative says.

Fathers make irreplaceable contributions to the lives of children, and their absence can produce negative outcomes for their youngsters. Additionally, a missing father is a more reliable predictor of criminal behavior than race, environment or poverty, according to the FBI.

Other events - such as the Project Fatherhood Conference on the Impact of Absentee Fathers in Children’s Lives, which occurred June 20 in Southern California - address the importance of father figures. The one-day conference, hosted by the Children’s Institute Inc., offered nine workshops featuring nationally recognized leaders in the fatherhood field who spoke on the work being done in Los Angeles County to bring public awareness to the problem.

Mr. Gray, a former director of the D.C. Department of Human Services, regularly invites youths to appear at routine public hearings. He schedules hearings solely for children and young adults, encouraging them to talk about whatever issues they want, which is highly unusual.

• Jeri Washington is a writer living in the District.

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