Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Brothers Jesse and Deric Muhammad on the Cover of Recent African-American News and Issues Newspaper

(Jesse and Deric Muhammad grew up in the dilpidated shack (left).In the documentary, Raising Boys: Tips for Single Moms, Deric shares tips to help single Black mothers and their sons overcome the challenges
of raising their sons alone.)

By: Tuala Williams (General Manager of the African-American News and Issues)

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, at least 70 percent of all African-American households are headed by single mothers. These ever increasing numbers are causing concern among some in the Black community and several men have stepped up to address the problem.

In fact, the issue provoked Houston community activist Deric Muhammad to produce a documentary, Raising Boys: Tips for Single Moms. Muhammad, the son of single mother Mavis Jackson, produced the documentary in hopes of responding to the crisis mothers and sons experience.

“The Black mother is the soldier on the frontline to save the Black male and every good soldier needs good ammunition. Every good soldier needs good armor, so these tools are important because we are trying to arm these women with the tools they need to save their sons.

“In most cases, when a young woman calls me and her son is facing 10 or 20 or 30 years in prison, or even life, and I ask the question, ‘Where is the father?,’ the answer to that question is usually, ‘I don’t know.’ And so since most of these sisters don’t know where the father is, then we have to give them the ammunition that they need to cover their end for the father until the Black man gets there,” Muhammad said in his documentary.

Muhammad explains that despite the fact that the Black male makes up only 6 to 7 percent of the population in America, they make up over 50 percent of the prison population, and Blacks make up 49 percent of all murder victims. Muhammad says his father died when was 11-years-old. Prior to his death, he did not see his father very much, but when he did see him, his father would tell him that he loved him and that he should not be like him. His father, he says was a hustler and a con artist. Despite best intentions, his father’s warnings were not sufficient to deter him from following his own rebellious path.

It is a common understanding that boys need their fathers and there is great concern about the ability of single mothers to transform their little boys into strong men. Some fear the lack of a male role model in their lives will cause them to become weak, degenerate or effeminate. “It’s very difficult for a woman to raise a boy to be a man,” said David Miller, co-founder of the youth-focused Urban Leadership Institute in Baltimore.

“A boy has to be around good men for that to happen.” Miller is founder of the national campaign called, “Raising Him Alone,” that provides a network of resources, advocacy and access to community-based services. The campaign focuses primarily on reaching the Black community via workshops, seminars, online initiatives and more.

Others disagree with the notion that a single mother cannot raise a healthy male, believing that, given adequate resources, women can raise healthy productive sons. There is evidence to support both sides, raising the question, what is the difference? What causes some boys to “turn out alright” and others to deviate from societal expectations?

Some blame poverty. Statistics show that six out of every 10 children living with only their mother were near or below the poverty level.

“I grew up in a single parent household,” Muhammad says. “My mother had five children and there was no man in the house.” Muhammad, who grew up on welfare, stated there were times he and his family had no electricity or water. He says poverty made life hard, but they made the best of their situation.

However, according to Muhammad, the thing that seemed to truly hinder their growth as men was his mother’s crack addiction and the lack of a male role model. In the documentary, Jeremy Banks also talks about his friends’ struggles in their quest to find a male role model they can identify with.

“A lot of my friends, they don’t really have fathers at home. Of the friends that I do hang out with, I only know one that actually has a mom and a dad, and his dad is always there, but at the same time, he’s always drunk and stuff. But he really doesn’t care about that. He’s still doing things with his life,” Banks says, “But the rest of my friends, I don’t really think they have fathers at home, but they try to act like they do. They harbor the things that they see outside the home and they take that and imitate that instead of looking at the TV watching Barack Obama, like having a good influence, they take in the drug dealers, the gangs, the hip hop rappers like Little Wayne, the drugs, alcohol, stuff like that.”

Raising a son alone can be a challenge for any single mother, even in the best of circumstances. Gillis Triplett, of Gillis Triplett Ministries, says there are things many mothers do that sabotage their own efforts. Among them are poisoning their son’s minds against their biological father, instilling the “All men are dogs,” mentality, making their sons the men of the house, feminizing their son, emasculating their sons, making them mama’s boys, refusal to allow them to have contact with strong male role models, allowing men to sleep over, playing the dating game.

According to Triplett, when allow men to sleep over or go through a number of boyfriends, boys become indoctrinated to see women as sex objects and become desensitized to the well-being of women. In short, he begins to lose respect for them. These things can create enormous amounts of frustration for young men growing up without a father. Muhammad says that fatherlessness; in itself, is not the true cause of crisis. He blames the bitterness caused by fatherlessness for the downward spiral many young men find themselves on.

He says young men, growing up without a father creates a common bond that can set them on a path to destruction. These young men find a sense of identity together which they lacked as individuals, often causing them to form gangs.

“And once they get together and they create an identity for themselves, they get together and prove themselves. But it is all because they have not been taught a proper identity for themselves for the lack of a father,” Muhammad says.