This month in the series “Walk Where I Walk,” brought to you by Urban Youth Workers Institute, we are talking about the Family Portrait. What is the picture of the family of a new generation? Who are the ones raising our youth?
Her eyes were low and her countenance nervous. Tones were hushed as she pulled me aside to talk. “Today, remember when we were talking about our family? I live with my Grandma. She loves me and all. But, I wanted to tell you that I have been abandoned.” No tears…simply resolve, as this gorgeous 15-year-old shifted her weight from one foot to the next.
“I’ve never met my dad; I think he’s somewhere. My mom, she’s on drugs; she left us. “ Shame covered her face, followed by anger. “The only time we see her is when she needs money. I think I’m an orphan. Why can’t my Mom just love me enough to come around and be my mom?”
My heart broke as this was a new version of an old story that I had heard so many times before. A couple of years ago an ad campaign caught my eye at the local bus stop in the city where I live. A man was laughing as he swung his child around, the caption reading, “Have you been a dad today?” The need for such an ad made my stomach turn. Why would a man need to be told to be a father?
The reality is that in some urban communities, “single, female heads of household with children present” are as high as 77%. This is heart wrenching compared to the national average of 12.7%. The new 2010 Census data has revealed that nearly 3 million children in America are currently being raised by their grandparents. Over 30% of the families in the US today are raising a child that belongs to another parent. The teen pregnancy rate is on the rise once again after declining for almost 14 years. Those born to teen parents are more likely to be brought up in single parent households.
I had the occasion yesterday to peer at the birth certificate of a young woman that I mentor. There was no declared father. The only parent even listed was her mother. As those walking along with the new generation of youth we must prepare ourselves for the lives that walk through our doors. Once the generational cycle in the city was the absence of the fathers. With divorce rates on the rise this epidemic has silently crept across the street into the suburbs. Today our youth are being raised by grandparents, other family members, friends, or even foster care.
This is the picture of James 1:27, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” Biblically an orphan is a child growing up without a father and a widow is a woman who has lost a husband who should be caring for his family. The neighborhoods of America have become snapshots of widows and orphans. Families of the city are literally unraveling. Christ longs for wholeness. He tells us in Malachi and Luke, “He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the children to their fathers.” This is HIS plan. If we are to be about his religion, then we must embrace this family unit. It may not always be familiar, or even comfortable. But this is the pure religion to which followers of Jesus we are called.
So where do we begin?
Listen more than we talk. We must get to know the stories of the home from which our youth come intimately. Hold our tongues from judging. Recognize that not every family is broken. However, for so many that are we must start with one simple question, “How can I help?”
In 2011 UYWI is intentionally providing more in-depth training on working with families through our workshops. “When the Men Are Missing In Action (MIA)” focuses on the issue of fatherlessness and practical methods to address this, while “All in The Family” aids in knowing how to best talk to the parents.
Leneita Fix is the Training Coordinator for Urban Youth Workers Institute. You can learn more about a training coming to your area and read Leneita’s full bio at www.uywi.org. In addition to see the family situation for yourself you can watch this compelling video by GripOutreach For Youth in Chicago.