Bill Moyers takes a second look at this Peabody Award-winning documentary which provides an unflinching account of the disintegration of family in the African-American community.
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BILL MOYERS: Raise your hand if you’re married. None of you are married. Raise your hand if you would like to be married to your baby’s father. One. [laughter] The rest of you don’t plan to get married. Why don’t you plan to get married? I’d like to know that.
1st TEENAGE MOTHER: You already have your child to think about, and then a whole family to care for? You know, it’s a lot of responsibility. And then, you don’t want the commitments.
CLARINDA HENDERSON: I wouldn’t want no man holding me down, because I — I think I can make it as a single parent.
BILL MOYERS: But don’t you think you might need help in raising that baby, from a man?
LADAWN: Not really. I didn’t have a father. My father wasn’t in the home, so, you know, it really — male figures are not substantially important in the family.
TIMOTHY MCSEED: I ain’t thinkin’ about holding up far as no sex, my man, you know? H the girl — you know, if she get — havin’ a baby, carrying a baby, that’s on her, you know. I’m not going to stop my pleasures because of another woman.
BILL MOYERS: What about birth control? What about a condom?
TIMOTHY MCSEED: l haven’t — girls don’t like them things. They don’t like them things. They’ll tell you to take them things off. They figure that you saying that they filthy or they dirty or something.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] It’s been a startling change in values. Twenty-five years ago you would not have heard such things said so freely, because they were not embraced so widely. The strong family was still the backbone of black America, and three out of four children had both parents at home. That is true no longer, and most black children are now growing up without their fathers. The result is a world turned upside down, as children copy what they see, and repeat what they learn. LaDawn said she didn’t have a father in her home, and doesn’t think her children need one. She’s not unusual. Half the black families today are headed only by a woman. Clarinda said she could make it on her own as a single parent. She has never been married and is raising her daughter without a man’s help. She’s not unusual. Today, nearly 60 percent of all black children are born out of wedlock. Timothy said his children are not his responsibility. He has left them to be supported by their mothers and welfare. He’s not unusual, either. For LaDawn and Clarinda and Timothy, and many more like them in cities all over America, the traditional family no longer exists. It has vanished, and something new is taking its place: single women and the children they’re rearing alone are the fastest-growing part of the black population. What becomes of the black family in a world where the values are being turned upside down?
CAROLYN WALLACE: If the parent is 17 and 18, uneducated, unmotivated, fooling around, wandering around, what’s the child going to learn? Who’s the teacher? When you learned something, you was taught by your parents. It was reinforced by school and your neighbors, but it was taught by your parents. Well, if the parents don’t know anything, how are they going to teach the children? So it’s not racism that I’m fighting right now. It’s the lack of motivation, it’s — you see, I’m not even talking about racism. Maybe later on we’ll get back to that. But I think we are destroying ourselves.
BILL MOYERS: I’m Bill Moyers. That was the opening of a documentary broadcast by CBS News on January 25th, 1986. It brought to the center of America’s conversation one of the most painful realities of our time, and its repercussions, which reached the White House and Congress, prompted CBS to repeat the film a few months later, something a network rarely does. Produced by my CBS colleagues, Ruth Streeter and Kate Roth, the documentary revealed how broadcast journalism can inform and educate us about the challenges facing democracy. But the people who truly deserve credit for it are those who told us their stories on camera. They were honest, courageous and trusting, and they gave the film its power and the issue its voice. CBS Reports’ The Vanishing Family.
BILL MOYERS: This is Newark, New Jersey, one of America’s inner cities. Inner city is a polite name for ghetto, as in black ghetto. Those of us who don’t live in the ghetto are brought here usually by television, and usually only when there are violent pictures to show. But we have to come here if you want to understand those fearsome statistics about the vanishing black family. Now, a lot of white families are in trouble, too. Single-parent families are twice as common in America today as they were 20 years ago. But for the majority of white children, family still means a mother and a father. This is not true for most black children. For them, things are getting worse. Today, black teenagers have the highest pregnancy rate in the industrial world, and in the black inner city, practically no teenage mother gets married. That’s no racist comment. What’s happening goes far beyond race. Why, then, do so many teenage girls get pregnant and have children? Why do so many fathers abandon their families? The answers begin with the people here. They told us what happens to family when mothers are children, fathers don’t count and the street is the strongest school.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] It is the beginning of another school day in Newark, New Jersey. Another day of class for Clarinda Henderson. She is 17, and had hoped to graduate from high school next year, but that was before the birth of her baby ..
CLARINDA HENDERSON: I dreamed that having a little baby you could just cuddle in your arms, just hug all the time, kiss on it, smell it — ’cause it’s so sweet — I thought it’d be fun, until I had it. Then —
BILL MOYERS: The reality is different?
CLARINDA HENDERSON: -reality just punched me right in the eye. I, like, had to pinch myself and see if I was here, because I was like — this is too much.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Clarinda was only 15 when she got pregnant with her daughter, Shaquana. She is not unusual. Half of all black teenagers become pregnant. Clarinda has never been married. She’s still living with her mother at home, where she’s raising her baby daughter. Clarinda goes to a special school for dropouts after she takes her daughter to a day care center. She has fifth-grade math skills and reads at a sixth-grade level.
CLARINDA HENDERSON: When I got pregnant, I said, well, I had — I’ma have this baby, and she’s not going to stand in the way of my education. I’m not going to let no one stand in the way of my education. I ain’t gonna be like these other girls, just drop out, can’t get no job, no money, have to be on welfare.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Clarinda learned about birth control in sex education courses, but she still became pregnant. [interviewing] You think it was a mistake?
CLARINDA HENDERSON: Well, I’ll say no, because I wasn’t on any, you know, birth control methods. Neither was he. And, you know, we were sexually active, and when it happened, it just happened.
BILL MOYERS: When you think back to that day when you learned you were pregnant, what went through your mind?
CLARINDA HENDERSON: Oh, gosh, how’m I gonna tell my mother? Am I gonna tell my mother? She going to make me get an abortion? I was really scared, I think.
BILL MOYERS: Why didn’t you want to get an abortion?
CLARINDA HENDERSON: Because I wanted his baby.
BILL MOYERS: What did you like about him?
CLARINDA HENDERSON: His legs.
BILL MOYERS: His legs?
CLARINDA HENDERSON: He — I was — I got a thing for bowlegged boys.
BILL MOYERS: Bowlegged boys. [chuckling]
CLARINDA HENDERSON: I love ’em. They really have some gorgeous legs — I just don’t know.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over]: Darren Lyle is the father of Clarinda’s baby. He is 18, and lives in Central Newark. He dropped out of high school when he was 16. He has never held a steady job.
DARREN LYELL: I spend most of my time listening to the radio. You know, I don’t go to school, I don’t work, I don’t do nothin’. Just like this killin’ time.
BILL MOYERS: Did you want to have a baby?
DARREN LYELL: Not now — I — no, not really.
BILL MOYERS: It just happened?
DARREN LYELL: It just happened, you know, she just popped up pregnant, and I just —
BILL MOYERS: Were your friends impressed?
DARREN LYELL: -a lot of — you know, everybody was telling me that, you know, that she — you know, she looked just like me, and you know, she is kind of cute, and you know, kind of pretty. You know, and I was like, you know, make me — you know, make me feel good.
BILL MOYERS: Sure.
DARREN LYELL: Mm-hmm.
BILL MOYERS: Do many of them have babies?
DARREN LYELL: It seem like that’s all — they be doing around here, is making babies and stuff — making babies.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Darren told us that in this neighborhood it’s easy to get involved with girls, and easy to get into trouble. Darren has been arrested five times, for stealing, suspicion of homicide, and for possession of a deadly weapon. [interviewing] When you were arrested for carrying a dangerous weapon, what was it?
DARREN LYELL: One of them big machetes.
BILL MOYERS: Machete?
DARREN LYELL: Them knives, them big knives.
BILL MOYERS: You mean you just carried it around with you?
DARREN LYELL: I used to bring-it to school with me.
BILL MOYERS: I mean, that’s — hard to conceal that, isn’t it?
DARREN LYELL: Naw, because I had like this blue coat, it was like a blue goose, and I poked a hole in the pocket of it, and I used to just put it right in there.
BILL MOYERS: Isn’t that dangerous?
DARREN LYELL: That’s the way stuff was going. You know, like that’s the way the people was acting towards me, so I felt like I needed a weapon, ’cause, you know, it just seemed like, you know, it was like a war, really, like Vietnam.
BILL MOYERS: Have you asked Darren to help you with the baby?
CLARINDA HENDERSON: No, because I see he can’t even help hisself. He can’t. It’s pitiful to say that, but he can’t.
BILL MOYERS: He wasn’t ‘t prepared to be a father?
CLARINDA HENDERSON: No. And he still isn’t.
BILL MOYERS: Were you ready to be a mother?
CLARINDA HENDERSON: Well, no. But now that I am, I just have to take it step by step.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over]: Clarinda relies on welfare to support Shaquana, but it’s her mother, Gloria Henderson, who gets the check for the whole family. Gloria, 34, has never been married. She was a teenager when Clarinda was born, just as her own mother, Clarinda’s grandmother, had been when Gloria was born.
[interviewing] When you were pregnant, did you assume that you could turn to welfare for help after the baby came?
CLARINDA HENDERSON: Yeah, but I didn’t have her just to collect welfare. I had her because I felt that it would have been a part of me, I would have had somebody to live for, and also somebody to love and love me back.
BILL MOYERS: Is your daughter the first person you’ve ever loved?
CLARINDA HENDERSON: I really, really love my daughter.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Two months after the birth of their baby, Clarinda was pregnant again by Darren. This time, she had an abortion. She didn’t think she could handle two little children while still a teenager herself.
[interviewing] Your grandmother was a single woman with a child, your mother, a single woman with a child. Now you. Why is that happening?
CLARINDA HENDERSON: I really didn’t plan on getting pregnant, but if I really had somebody to really sit down and talk to, like, really express my feelings to them, I don’t think none of this would have happened. And then, when it did happen, my grandma was like, “I told you this, I told you this.” Tell me nothin’.
BILL MOYERS: Nobody told Darren anything, either. He, too, lives at home, with his mother.
[interviewing] Where’s your father?
DARREN LYELL: Locked up.
BILL MOYERS: Locked up? Where?
DARREN LYELL: Green Street.
BILL MOYERS: What for?
DARREN LYELL: Fighting and shit. Fighting. Violence. Stuff like that.
BILL MOYERS: Had anybody ever told you what it is like to be a father?
DARREN LYELL: I like watching other — other older, you know, that have kids.
BILL MOYERS:What did you learn from them? Well, did you —
DARREN LYELL: I learned about them. They take, like, a lot of patience. They take a lot of patience to be a father.
BILL MOYERS: — do you have a lot of patience?
DARREN LYELL: I don’t got a lot of patience.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Clarinda doesn’t always have a lot of patience either.
CLARINDA HENDERSON: You want to fight?
DARREN LYELL: No.
CLARINDA HENDERSON: Then don’t ask me if I want to fight, if you don’t want to fight. Don’t say to me.
DARREN LYELL: Get off my porch, then, you know
CLARINDA HENDERSON: Come here, Nook.
DARREN LYELL: You don’t want to talk, see? You like going out like that and
CLARINDA HENDERSON: No, you went out. You shouldn’ta said nothing to me.
YELL: I can get wild, sure!
CLARINDA HENDERSON: You done already pissed me off.
DARREN LYELL: What’d I do?
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Two months after her abortion, Clarinda and Darren broke off their relationship. They see each other rarely now. Once in a while, Clarinda will take Shaquana to visit.
[interviewing] Do you ever think about marrying Clarinda?
DARREN LYELL: [Shakes his head negatively]
BILL MOYERS: Why not?
DARREN LYELL: Not now. I ain’t thinkin’ about that now. That’s the last thing on my mind.
BILL MOYERS: You ever feel depressed?
DARREN LYELL: I don’t be feelin’ — I don’t be like sad, I just be like frustrated. I don’t be-I’m like — really like frustrated.
BILL MOYERS: What are the odds that your daughter will follow the same route, because there was your grandmother —
CLARINDA HENDERSON: No.
BILL MOYERS: -your mother, and you.
CLARINDA HENDERSON: No. I’ll see to that.
BILL MOYERS: How?
CLARINDA HENDERSON: That she won’t. I will sit down, I will talk to her about her bein’ a young lady, like, Quana, if you go out here, you have sex, be sure you on birth control, or, you know, if you do have sex, make sure whoever you havin’ the sex with, care about you. Don’t just let them just get — just let, you know, them get over on you, thinkin’ they got a piece of the action now and they can go tell Tom, Dick and Harry.
BILL MOYERS: Did your mother tell you those things?
CLARINDA HENDERSON: No.
BILL MOYERS: You tell them to yourself!
CLARINDA HENDERSON: I talk to myself in the mirror [laughs].
BILL MOYERS: And you say; “No, no”?
CLARINDA HENDERSON: No. No. It’s like I say to my daughter, “No. No. No more.”
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Alice Sondra Jackson is 23. She’s the mother of two, expecting a third, and is not married. She, too, lives in Newark. Like nearly half of all black children in America, Alice’s children are being raised in poverty. They live a subsidized life in subsidized housing, but that’s not what Alice wanted or intended. Alice lives in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Newark, in the project was she was born and brought up. But she’d hoped that one day she would move out of here. She graduated from high school, went to business college for a year, and worked steadily until she became pregnant with her first child.
ALICE JACKSON: You know, I was doing so good before I was pregnant. I had a little job; I kept money, you know, stuff, but after I had the child, that’s when money started going low.
BILL MOYERS: What was your reaction when you found out you were pregnant the first time? Did you intend to get pregnant?
ALICE JACKSON: It wasn’t — no, it wasn’t planned, but when I got pregnant I wanted it, you know, I wanted to be a mother, you know. It was exciting to me. I just thought if 1 had something of my owns, a little child that’s going to call me Mommy, you know. After you have them, it’s hard, you know, you’ve got to buy them this, you’ve got to buy them that.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over]: Malik is Alice’s firstborn. He is now three years old. Soon: after he was born, Alice, then 20, quit her job to take care of him. Sixteen months later, her second child, Antoine, was born. When we met, she was six months pregnant with her third child. Timothy McSeed is 26, the father of Alice’s three children. Though they’re not married, they see each other regularly.
ALICE JACKSON: When I first met him, I didn’t like him, but when he started talking to me, it seemed like he was. like. a man that wanted to have a home, have children, take care of them.
BILL MOYERS: Did you talk with Timothy about how you were going to support the baby when you were pregnant?
ALICE JACKSON: No, that’s what we didn’t do. No, we didn’t even talk about how we was going to support the child.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Timothy McSeed held his last steady job two and a half years ago. He’s been arrested several times on robbery and drug charges. He was brought up in Newark by his mother, who was 16 when Timothy was born. His father has another family in another city. Timothy has a talent for drawing, which he’s never developed. He dropped out of high school at 16, and spent two years in the Job Corps. He was 23 when he and Alice had their first child. Timothy does not support any of his children. [interviewing] How many children do you have?
TIMOTHY MCSEED: Six. [Laughs]
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] He fathered those six children by four women. He also had two more children by two other women, but one died in infancy and the other was aborted. We asked him about the birth of his first surviving child.
TIMOTHY MCSEED: It was kind of a funny experience, because, like, me and the girl was just messin’ around, right. and she was going with somebody else. She used to be a old girlfriend of mine, she managed to get popped up by me.
BILL MOYERS: Okay. That’s the second baby. The third was?
TIMOTHY MCSEED: Mustafa. Mustafa. He was the third.
BILL MOYERS: That was by another lady?
TIMOTHY MCSEED: Mm-hmm. Mrs. Ward. Yes. I go see him every now and then.
BILL MOYERS: How old is he now?
TIMOTHY MCSEED: He’s five, if I’m not mistaken. Five or four, either one.
BILL MOYERS: And then the fourth one was?
TIMOTHY MCSEED: Simone, but I don’t — I only saw her twice. Two times.
BILL MOYERS: What happened to her?
TIMOTHY MCSEED: It was — a family problem, you know. The father don’t want me to see the mother, and all that. Who knows? So I got tired of running behind her, and found me someone else. I didn’t have to sweat it because I guess the father was taking care of them anyway, so.
BILL MOYERS: How did it feel to have those —
TIMOTHY MCSEED: Women?
BILL MOYERS: -no, kids! Kids.
TIMOTHY MCSEED: Oh. Well, you get to see — if it ain’t one thing you’ve done, you like artwork, for instance. You look at your an, you say, “This is something that I’ve done.” It’s like the carpentry, it’s something that you’ve done. You can see what you’ve done. It’ — anything — if you don’t do nothin’. you can see something, you know, that your life was, you know, what it was to you.
BILL MOYERS: So the kids are sort of artwork?
TIMOTHY MCSEED: Well, not really, but you can — all right, they might grow up to be doctors or actors, you know, and you can say, “Look, that’s my boy,” or “That’s my girl,” you know. Where there’s — you know, there’s some people that can’t have children at all.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Their mothers raise Timothy’s children, and welfare pays for them. On the first day of each month, at noon, the mothers gather outside the project’s mailroom, waiting for the postman to deliver their checks.
ALICE JACKSON: Well. I call it — we call it “Mother’s Day.”
BILL MOYERS: Why?
ALICE JACKSON: ‘Cause us mothers be getting our check that day, getting their welfare checks, so we call it “Mother’s Day.”
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Alice’s welfare check comes to $385 a month. She cashes it at the corner store. She gets another $112 in food stamps.
ALICE JACKSON: I don’t think I would have had the second two children if I didn’t think welfare was there. I don’t like welfare, because it makes me lazy.
BILL MOYERS: It does?
ALICE JACKSON: Yeah, it makes you lazy just to sit around and wait for a monthly check to come in, you know. I just like to work. I like money coming every week, or every two weeks.
BILL MOYERS: Why doesn’t Timothy help you take care of those kids?
ALICE JACKSON: Ooohh, one thing I do know about Timothy, that if he did have a job, I know he would take care of me and the children and the bills. But what’s holding him back, well, this is what he tells me all the time, he says I’m gonna be with another guy, or I’m gone slip away from him while he at work. That don’t make no sense to me.
BILL MOYERS: Don’t you get mad sometimes?
ALICE JACKSON: I get mad a lot of times about financially support from Timothy.
BILL MOYERS: What do you say to him?
ALICE JACKSON: I always say it ain’t that hard to get a job. Go out there and look for a job, ’cause I’m sick and tired of just laying back waiting for a welfare check. I say that this is not how I want to live the rest of my life, this is not the way I planned for my future to be.
BILL MOYERS: Does it make you feel bad that you can’t support your kids?
TIMOTHY MCSEED: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: How do they make it. Where do they — where do they get the money?
TIMOTHY MCSEED: Well, the majority of the mothers are on welfare, and — welfare gives them a stipend for the month. See, what I’m not doing, the government does.
BILL MOYERS: What would happen if the government didn’t?
TIMOTHY MCSEED: [Laughing] I guess it’d be a big disaster, I guess. ‘Cause you can’t give something that you don’t have. In order to give, you got to have for yourself.
BILL MOYERS: But you see, people out there watching are going to say, “Why didn’t he think about that before he brought six kids into the world?”
TIMOTHY MCSEED: Well, the mother had a choice. She could have an abortion, or she could have kept the child. She decided the way that she wanted to have the child, so, therefore, I guess it’s not sweatin’ her, I mean, it’s not my
BILL MOYERS: You think it’s her fault if she gets pregnant?
TIMOTHY MCSEED: Well —
BILL MOYERS: I mean, you popped her.
TIMOTHY MCSEED: -maybe, maybe not. Like they say, “Mama baby, papa maybe,” you know what I mean?
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] A week before their last baby is born, Alice came for what is only her fourth visit to the doctor during her pregnancy.
ALICE JACKSON: Yeah, I was very much worried, and I was kind of unhappy being pregnant, you know, to know that I’ma have a third child, and I’m not doing so good with my two I have already. But as, you know, the months went by, I just had to deal with it, being pregnant and knowin’ that it’s my child. I’m going to have the child and I’m just going to have to support it the same way I supported; them, or do better if I could do better.
BILL MOYERS: Is that the last one?
ALICE JACKSON: Well, I ain’t gonna say that, ’cause I said that when I had my first one, so I — then I had a second one, when I said that. with my second one, and I had a third one, so I ain’t gonna say that.
BILL MOYERS: Did you think about birth control?
ALICE JACKSON: No, I didn’t even think about birth control. I was — afraid of birth control, because I always heard that birth control give you cancer and all that stuff.
BILL MOYERS: What about Timothy? Did you talk to him about taking precautions, about being careful?
ALICE JACKSON: Yeah, I talked to him about being careful, about, you know, birth control.
ALICE JACKSON: Hmm?
BILL MOYERS: But?
ALICE JACKSON: But?
BILL MOYERS: Did he?
ALICE JACKSON: No, he wasn’t with it.
TIMOTHY MCSEED: I told you it was going to be a boy.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] On Father’s Day, Alice and Timothy had their third son, Akeem Lamont Jackson, seven pounds, seven ounces.
TIMOTHY MCSEED: Yay, a little boy. Little boy. I’m the king. I’m the king. Hey!
ALICE JACKSON: That baby tried to kill me.
TIMOTHY MCSEED: How you feelin’ now? You feelin’ all right, sweetheart?
ALICE JACKSON: No, I’m still — hurts — my stomach — all right — the pain.
TIMOTHY MCSEED: Everything’s going to be okay.
ALICE JACKSON: [holding baby] Hey, fat faced little baby. No, no, you’re hurting me. You hungry? I know you’re hungry.
TIMOTHY MCSEED: Let me see my little man.
BILL MOYERS: So many women, so many children. Do you ever think that maybe you shouldn’t do it —
TIMOTHY MCSEED: Who, me? .
BILL MOYERS: -yeah, ·unless you can be sure you don’t have a kid?
TIMOTHY MCSEED: No, not really, ’cause I’m highly sexed. But I have — ways of cooling myself down, you know. Because, like, when you’re dealing with one female, and you’re not dealing with another female, having sex with her too much is bad. So you have to like, you know, set a schedule, when you should do it and when you should not.
BILL MOYERS: You seem to break your schedule sometimes.
TIMOTHY MCSEED: Well, like most women say, “You’re a babymaker.” I’ve just got strong sperm, that’s all.
BILL MOYERS: Would you have had these kids if you’d thought about them in advance?
TIMOTHY MCSEED: No.
BILL MOYERS: All were an accident?
TIMOTHY MCSEED: Yeah, you could say that.
BILL MOYERS: Were you just having a good time?
TIMOTHY MCSEED: Mmm — yeah, a lovely time. I enjoyed myself.
BILL MOYERS: And you dido ‘t think about marrying any of these women except the first one, the first girl?
TIMOTHY MCSEED: Yes. Well, I’m going to marry Alice.
BILL MOYERS: Sondra.
TIMOTHY MCSEED: Oh, yes. We’re going to get married.
BILL MOYERS: Do you love Sondra?
TIMOTHY MCSEED: Yes. A lot. A great deal.
BILL MOYERS: Does she love you?
TIMOTHY MCSEED: The girl crazy about me.
BILL MOYERS: Well, tell me, why don’t you get married?
TIMOTHY MCSEED: Well, see, I’m old-fashioned. I want a big wedding. That’s that. And — my uncles and my aunts, you know, they all had their little tuxedos, and I want to have mine, too.
BILL MOYERS: I thought you were going to say to me, “Because I can’t afford to at the moment.”
TIMOTHY MCSEED: Oh, that ain’t it, ’cause I’m gone find me something. I’m gone get something. See, I’m strong in that spot. I’m gone find something.
BILL MOYERS: When?
TIMOTHY MCSEED: Whenever. I keep on tryin’. I don’t never give up.
BILL MOYERS: You know, you feel very responsible for your children, and Timothy doesn’t. What does that say?
ALICE JACKSON: Mmm. Sometimes I think like that. I sit there, here I am, I got two children, one on the way. Well, this was before the first one. I’m doin’ this all by myself. And sometimes, you know, if you sit down and think about that, I know, I really get very upset, because I don’t think he really understand that I’m here, you know, takin’ care of all this by myself. If — if he did that, if he think like that, I think he’d do something. I don’t think he really understand that I’m doing that.
BILL MOYERS: Why do you let him off the hook? Why do you put up with it?
ALICE JACKSON: You know, sometimes I be, like, tellin’ him leave me alone, it’s over with. But every time I do that, when he not with me, even that same day, or the next day, I feel, you know, lonely without him. For like — you know, I just get angry and say them things, I don’t really be meaning them. So.
BILL MOYERS: Do you love him?
ALICE JACKSON: Yes, I love him.
BILL MOYERS: Does he love you?
ALICE JACKSON: Yes, I think he love me, too.
BILL MOYERS: There’s a famous book about the black experience in America, called The Invisible Man. Ironically, the young black man today is anything but invisible. He’s the one who shows up in the highest unemployment rate. He’s right there in the top of the crime statistics. He’s the one most threatening to his black neighbors, and the one most feared in the mind of white America. Every teenaged boy growing up can go either way, but the son of a single young woman in the ghetto is pressured to go the wrong way every time he steps onto these streets.
BILL MOYERS: What do you see for your future out there? You’re how old now?
BERNARD WARDRICK: I’m 15, and right now, if I keep goin’ like it’s goin’ now; I really think I probably will make it, and then again, I probably won’t have all the things that I really want in life right now, but I think I will have most of the things I want.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] For teenagers like Bernard Wardrick and his friends, Boskie, “C” and Mike, there are no familiar road maps for the way up and out. It is the street and the media that teach a boy here how to become a man. Bernard dreams of making it as a rap star. He and his friends have formed a group, the “Educated Three.”
ANNOUNCER: So here they come, Newark, New Jersey, your own “Educated Three.”
BILL MOYERS: What is rapping?
BERNARD WARDRICK: To me, it’s like poetry, because you know, I could just sit down and write it. I could .Sit at the table, or whatever, or wherever I’m at, and I could just think of it.
BILL MOYERS: What does it take to be a good rapper? What’s the skill?
BERNARD WARDRICK: You’ve got to have style, class and originality. Anybody can rhyme, you’ve just got to put yourself into it, and make it mean something.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] The Educated Three tell the story of the only life they know, the life of their block. They were born and raised here, in homes without fathers, and most of their time is spent here. The world they described is no nursery rhyme, as Bernard’s friend .. C” told us…
All the people got guns and try to stick up kids/
While the mother is at home shedding tears/
Because the son that she thought she had brought up right/
Is on the streets leadin’ a terrible life/
He’s walkin’ down a road headin’ for nowhere/
From my point of view he don’t even care/
Because the attitude he has makes him care about nothing/
Not his mother, his brother or even his cousins/
He think life is all about on the streets/
Being a two-time loser and a petty thief/
But everybody know that you’re the thief of the week/
Because you’re no good for nothin’, this way you’re good for somethin’/
Homeboy, the only thing you’re good for is frontin’.
BILL MOYERS: You wrote that?
BILL MOYERS: Who’d you write about?
“C”: I judged a lot on myself, because I used to be out there, man.
BILL MOYERS: Out there on the street?
“C”: Yeah, in just 18 years, I’ve seen a lot happen that I never thought I’d see.
BILL MOYERS: When you’re out on that street, is it dangerous?
YOUNG MAN: It’s dangerous, but — it is dangerous.
YOUNG MAN: Any day you can go outside, anything can happen to you.
“C”: Yeah, but it’s how you make it, man.
YOUNG MAN: True, yeah.
BILL MOYERS: Can a guy get killed on the street easily?
YOUNG MAN: See how you blink your eye? Like that
YOUNG MAN: Killed just like that.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] The leading cause of death for young black men is murder. One in 21 will be killed before the age of 25. Bernard was shot and robbed by two teenagers when he was 15. Four months later, he was arrested for carrying a .gun. That is not unusual. Nearly half of young men in the inner city are arrested before they reach 18. Trouble, Bernard told us, waits at every corner.
[interviewing] How does a guy keep from falling into that trap that you described in that rap?
“C”: If you see everybody else robbing, man, and selling drugs, you’re supposed to — it takes a wise man to learn from another man mistakes.
BERNARD WARDRICK: The adults got to set an example for the kids. If they see the adults do it, you know, that’s what they’re going to do, too, eventually.
BILL MOYERS: Who would be an example?
BERNARD WARDRICK: My family, my mother.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] His mom is Brenda Wardrick, 30 years old, the mother of four children by three different men. She raises her children alone in a daily tug-of-war with the street.
BRENDA WARDRICK: It’s a battle. It’s almost like — and I think most parents feel the same, that you fear for your children leaving home. They can leave out and walk right across the street, and trouble can get in their way.
BILL MOYERS: What’s the hardest thing about being a single parent?
BRENDA WARDRICK: It’s hard, you know, understanding them sometime, and they have difficulties understanding me, because I’m a young parent, and sometimes they act like I’m their sister as well as their mother, you know.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Brenda was just 14 when she became pregnant with Bernard, her first child. Bernard’s father was 15. By the time she was in her early 20s, there were three more children, each unplanned. To support them, Brenda works on and off as a nurse’s aide, but she could not make ends meet without welfare. None of the children’s fathers give her any financial support.
[interviewing] I I don’t understand what happens that causes so many fathers not to take responsibility for the kids they created, or helped to create.
BRENDA WARDRICK: It’s easier on their pockets if they can — most of the men today don’t, you know, assume their responsibilities as they should. Not that they can’t. They just don’t.
BILL MOYERS: Well, I’d get very mad if I were a mother. I think I would.
BRENDA WARDRICK: Oh, I get angry. But getting angry isn’t going to solve anything. And then sometimes, you know, their fathers, they feel like if they’re going to support them, then they have to have more time with me, and I don’t feel that that’s really necessary, you know.
BILL MOYERS: You’d rather take the burden of the children alone than to have to —
BRENDA WARDRICK: I wouldn’t rather, but I have.
BILL MOYERS: What do your children mean to you?
BRENDA WARDRICK: My friends. They’re my world, you know. When I wake up in the morning — see, you know, if you don’t have a husband, or a man with you, your children are always there. So you have someone to call your own. See, your children’ll smile when nobody else will.
BILL MOYERS: Do you want your kids to get married?
BRENDA WARDRICK: Sure. Especially my daughter. My boys, they’ll probably be what do you call it? Freelancers. [laughing]
BILL MOYERS: Freelancers? Like their fathers?
BRENDA WARDRICK: Yeah. Yeah. Maybe. I don’t know.
BILL MOYERS: That does seem to be the pattern.
BRENDA WARDRICK: Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Once, a single mother like Brenda would not have been so alone in raising children. She was born here in rural North Carolina, surrounded by an extended Baptist family, but her father went north looking for work, and Brenda was raised in Newark. Many summers she came back south to visit her kinfolk. They still live here, and every year hold a family reunion. With her present boyfriend, Lamont Banks, Brenda brought her children down for the occasion. She wanted Bernard, especially, to see a world different from the streets of Newark.
WOMAN [singing]: Jesus fed me when I was hungry/ Oh, ask the Lord; I’ve come along ways.
WARDRICK FAMILY SPOKESMAN: Thank you. That was just beautiful. She told us how we made it to the family reunion.
MAN GIVING BENEDICTION: Let us pray. Almighty, all wise and eternal God.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] The church was part of the extended family. It was sanctuary, community, comfort, brothers and sisters in faith and consolation.
BRENDA WARDRICK: When you’re away from people that you love and care about, these reunions son of just makes up for the distance, you know. You spend a little time, and you go back and you look forward to next time. It keeps us together, it keeps me going.
BERNARD WARDRICK: [lighting candle]: I’m lighting this for my great-grandfather and my great-grandmother.
BRENDA WARDRICK: And I’m hoping that my children will get together and give reunions, to keep the flow. Keep close with their family.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] More than blood, place and faith held these families together through hard times. There was memory, never more alive than at the old family burial ground. Brenda’s three aunts brought her and the kids to see where their roots run, far from the main highway, farther still from Newark.
[interviewing] Did you have to work in those days, in the fields?
1st AUNT: Sure, we worked in the field, but now, they got so much equipment now, people don’t have to work hard now.
BILL MOYERS: What was the hardest?
AUNTS: [in unison] Picking cotton!
1st AUNT: That’s right, picking cotton, that was the hardest.
BILL MOYERS: You all really have strong ties here, don’t you, to this piece of earth?·
1st AUNT: Oh, of course.
BRENDA WARDRICK: Sure.
BILL MOYERS: Is this cemetery all Wardricks?
2nd AUNT: As far as I know, yes.
BILL MOYERS: This is the old —
3rd AUNT: This is the Wardrick family.
BILL MOYERS: -now, that would be Bernard’s great-great-grandfather.
2nd AUNT: Right.
BILL MOYERS: What kind of man was he?
2nd AUNT: Wonderful. Wonderful.
BILL MOYERS: Brenda, do you try to tell your kids about the family?
BRENDA WARDRICK: Yes, I do. As much as I possibly can. And whenever I come home, I always ask questions. There’s a lot that I don’t know, and I’m still learning a lot about the family.
BILL MOYERS: But there’s a lot you want to know?
BRENDA WARDRICK: Yes. Yes. And I want my children to know.
BILL MOYERS: Why?
BRENDA WARDRICK: ‘Cause I think they should know who they are, and where they come from, and what we all stand for. I don’t know, I just get a good feeling when I’m here, you know, and I want to share that with my kids.
3rd AUNT: Together we stand, divided we must fall.
BILL MOYERS: Together we stand.
3rd AUNT: Yes. Divided we fall.
BILL MOYERS: You think that’s true as a family?
3rd AUNT: Yes, sir.
BILL MOYERS: It’s hard to hold a family together, though, isn’t it?
2nd AUNT: True.
3rd AUNT: Kinda hard.
BILL MOYERS: You think it’s harder today than it was when you were little?
2nd AUNT: It seems to be. I can remember, years ago, when — if something happened over here, our family in Virginia was right here.
BILL MOYERS: Everybody’d pitch in.
2nd AUNT: Right. And now, you never hear of that. It’s up to us to try and keep it together, ’cause this is what we were taught. Love and affection, that’s the only way we can make it.
BILL MOYERS: Bernard, this is such a change from Newark. What do you think when you’re here, in this place?
BERNARD WARDRICK: I enjoy coming to visit, but, you know, I don’t really — I wouldn’t like to live here, ’cause —
BILL MOYERS: Why?
BERNARD WARDRICK: -the environment isn’t the same. You got about 20, 30 houses on one block, and down here, you know, you got like a half-mile, you know, before you see another —
BILL MOYERS: A lot more action up there, right?
BERNARD WARDRICK: -yeah. Yeah. I enjoy it when I come down here, I love to visit, but I wouldn’t like to live down here.
BILL MOYERS: What do you think your life would be without — if you didn’t have these folks here and you didn’t come to these reunions?
BRENDA WARDRICK: Empty. Maybe almost not belonging somewhere. I just couldn’t imagine it, not having this here, you know.
BILL MOYERS: Of course, you have these reunions and this place and these people to fall back on. What do you think your children will have to fall back on?
BRENDA WARDRICK: This is what I’m trying to share with them, so that they will have this, too.
BILL MOYERS: But it’s — this is not Newark, isn’t it?
BRENDA WARDRICK: Well, yeah, they won’t — yeah, they’re missing a lot. ‘Cause this is where I was born, and they were born in Newark. I don’t think they have — they’re not as fortunate.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over]: But Bernard calls this home, and doesn’t miss the extended family that means so much to his mother. His notion of extended family means something different: the rap group, friends from the street, and Brenda’s boyfriend, Lamont Banks. Lamont is 31 years old, and much of what has happened over the last generation to the young black man who grew up in a broken family in the inner city is reflected in his experience. Lamont was raised in Newark by a single mother and grew up on the street. Now he has two children of his own who live with their mother in another pan of town. He works when he can, cleaning oil drums, but does not support his children or Brenda’s. He has become one of Bernard’s acting role models. He told us what it was like to spend his teenage years, as Bernard is doing, in the school of the street.
LAMONT BANKS: I grew up hard.
BILL MOYERS: Hard?
LAMONT BANKS: I grew up in — basically being the man of my family, at 13. Mommy was there, but Mommy was like always saying, well, she needed this, or it was hard, and you know, sometimes we’d go in the house and didn’t have no food, you know what I mean, and I couldn’t take that sometimes, you know. So I would take to the streets.
BILL MOYERS: And?
LAMONT BANKS: And whatever was necessary, so I could bring my mother some type of relief or help.
BILL MOYERS: Steal?
LAMONT BANKS: If it —
BILL MOYERS: Hustle?
LAMONT BANKS: -took — if it took that.
BILL MOYERS: How did you, as a kid, get caught up in that street life?
LAMONT BANKS: Hanging with a crowd.
BILL MOYERS: What happened? Give me some examples.
LAMONT BANKS: I was — basically I was — I was going with this girl, and — at 12 years old. And these other guys liked her. And they jumped me. And I got me a bat, and I put me some nails in this bat, and I taped this bat up with these nails in it. And I went looking for these guys. And each one I caught, I hit them with this bat, and I hurt them with this bat. They parents came to my mother with the police, and they locked me up. Several years later, I shot a guy. Out of anger.
BILL MOYERS: Anger?
LAMONT BANKS: Anger. What he had done to me had maybe hurt my feelings, but not so much to the point where I should have did what I done.
BILL MOYERS: What’d he do?
LAMONT BANKS: He spit on me.
BILL MOYERS: And you shot him?
LAMONT BANKS: And I shot him. Not that I probably couldn’t beat him, but I was just that angry, to the point where I wanted to kill somebody.
BILL MOYERS: And you had the gun on you?
LAMONT BANKS: A rifle, not a gun. A rifle.
BILL MOYERS: Was it normal to carry a gun when you were growing up?
LAMONT BANKS: Yeah, to protect yourself.
BILL MOYERS: What does a kid need to know to be smart on the street? To be a big man?
LAMONT BANKS: To be hateful, be mean. Don’t care about the next person. If you get in my way, I don’t go around you, I go over you.
BILL MOYERS: A doctor told me yesterday that one out of every 15 kids on the streets of Newark would be dead by the end of this year, there’s so much violence.
LAMONT BANKS: It’s — it’s a lot. Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: How are you going to keep Bernard from being one of those?
LAMONT BANKS: Well, basically, with Bernard, you give him — you give him a strict rule, and hopefully he follows it. You know, he ain’t no special child or nothin’ like that, but if you tell Bernard something, Bernard will listen, and Bernard will do it.
BILL MOYERS: Is there a tug-of-war between the street and what you imagine yourself becoming one day?
BERNARD WARDRICK: Yes, because I really be hopin’ to get up out of this, and — it’s be times I be wondering, well, how I’m gonna do it. And if I’ll be able to do it. But I really think I’ll be able to, because I’m strong. ·
BILL MOYERS: The street’s strong too, though, isn’t it?
BERNARD WARDRICK: Yes, it is. It really is. Because — it’s a lot of things that’s out there that be, you know, pull you back. But you stayin’ to the right things, and do the right thing, you can make it.
BILL MOYERS: I actually get the sense, talking to Bernard, that he’s still a little boy, struggling to be a man, and he’s more boy than man.
BRENDA WARDRICK: Yes. Yes.
BILL MOYERS: Do you think he has a chance to get out of here, to a good environment, a fresh start?
BRENDA WARDRICK: I hope so. I hope so. And that’s all I could say, is to hope.
BILL MOYERS: Does your heart sometimes beat twice when you see him walk down those steps and out into that —
BRENDA WARDRICK: Every day. Every day. I wonder if he’ll make it, reach his destination safely, and then return back home. My relief is when I hear his key turn in the door in the afternoon, and I know at least he’s back home.
BILL MOYERS: You won’t find in these neighborhoods the prime-time family of Bill Cosby: There are successful, strong black families in America, families that affirm parental authority and the values of discipline, work and achievement. But not many live · around here. Still, not every girl in the inner city ends up a teenage mother, not every young man goes into crime. There are people who have stayed here to fight for these kids. They’re outnumbered by the con artists and pushers — it’s not an even match — but they stand for morality and authority and give some of these kids a bracing dose of unsentimental love.
[voice-over] When their own fathers are missing, kids need someone else to stand in, to practice damage control, lest the street take over. For these kids, that someone is Detective Shahid Jackson of the Newark Police. He came by his street smarts the hard way.
Det. SHAHID JACKSON: Well, I came up out of the streets, so I know how to get around a lot of that· stuff, and I guess the older you get, the more you learn. I was fortunate enough; coming up, that I never got caught. And I grew out of the streets. But yet, I still have some of the street in me.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over]: There was a time when he wasn’t sure he would make it off those streets. He was an unmarried father at 18, and he had his share of troubles, but he was raised by two parents… his father was a Baptist minister — and they pushed him to make something of himself.
SHAHID JACKSON: On Sunday morning on my block you would see each family, almost, coming out, going to church. You know, you don’t see that any more, the family unity.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] When he was 21, Shahid Jackson joined the police department. Although he handled security for us while we were in Newark, his beat is the kids of the neighborhood, who look up to him as if he were their father. What he can do with them here, he knows, is just warm-up for what they face out of the ring and out of his reach.
SHAHID JACKSON: [coaching boxing]: You’re going for the title, work, work, work; work! Time!
BILL MOYERS: What have you learned about these kids?
SHAHID JACKSON: That they need somebody to love ’em. And that they identify with us because we don’t — excuse the expression — we don’t take any crap. You know, you come in here, you got to be disciplined, you got to, you know, follow the rules and regulations. Because when they go out here and deal with life, they’re gonna have to follow rules and regulations in life.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Self-control and self-esteem, far more important than a good left hook. That’s his message to kids like Bernard Wardrick. He’s been coaching Bernard for the past four years.
SHAHID JACKSON: It’s like a big brother-father image with me and Bernard. There’s been times when he’s gotten me mad, and I’ve spanked him, you know, and his mother knows I’ll spank him, and he knows I’ll spank him. And sometime that’s what a kid needs to know. Freedom is, a lot of times, destruction. The more freedom a man has, a lot of time, he’ll just self-destruct. So I try to — you know, keep them in a little cage.
BILL MOYERS: Somebody — Del.
ALICE JACKSON: Keep ’em in my arms.
BILL MOYERS: -somebody has to say no.
SHAHID JACKSON: Yeah, somebody has to say no, you cannot d:> this.
BILL MOYERS: A lot of these kids grew up with nobody saying no.
SHAHID JACKSON: Right.
BILL MOYERS: Do you think it’s important for them to have men around?
SHAHID JACKSON: Yeah, I think, you know, if you have a one-parent family, and it’s a mother, she cannot teach all of the things that a man can teach a son. There’s no way.
BILL MOYERS: So where do they learn the routine techniques of just daily work and living? They don’t, do they?
SHAHID JACKSON: Unless they get it from their parents, they get it from the streets.
BILL MOYERS: How do these kids on the streets make it?
SHAHID JACKSON: They could either be a stickup man, if he stays in the streets, he could be a mugger, he could be a drug dealer. There’s so many different things. Like, you get a kid who’s a good boxer, and a drug dealer may say, ”Hey, you want to make so much money a day? Just make sure nobody stick up my man, here.”
BILL MOYERS: He becomes a soldier for the drug dealer?
SHAHID JACKSON: Or a strong arm, you know.
BILL MOYERS: Helping to protect the drug dealer.
SHAHID JACKSON: Helping to protect the drug dealer. ‘Cause if he can make $100 a day, or $60 a day just standing there watching something, and you know, he does it. And that’s the battle that you’ve got to deal with, you know. That’s the war, to try to convince them that that stuff isn’t — in the streets, isn’t worth — in their best interest.
BILL MOYERS: Does it worry you that Bernard could fall into that?
SHAHID JACKSON: I think: he could go either way, but I think if he does — it’d be something that’d really hurt me, so I don’t think I’ll let him go away. You know, he’s like a son to me. .
BILL MOYERS: What do you think’s ahead for kids like Timothy and Alice Sondra?
SHAHID JACKSON: That’s going to be rough. It’s like hell where they live. And Alice is sweet as hell, but she loves Timothy. I would say if Alice had a husband that was strong, she could do something with her life.
BILL MOYERS: Is a kid like Timothy — what happens to a kid like that down the road?
SHAHID JACKSON: He’s like a guy on a trip without a road map. Timothy’s just out there. Timothy doesn’t know which way he wants to go, what he wants to do. Timothy is a guy with great talent, as far as art. The kid could draw anything. But Timothy is a ladies’ man.
BILL MOYERS: Is that a point of pride with him, accomplishment?
SHAHID JACKSON: To him, I would imagine, yeah, it’s an accomplishment.
BILL MOYERS: Where does he get any money, Shahid? He doesn’t work. He told me he hadn’t had a job in two years.
SHAHID JACKSON: Oh, Alice gets assistance, I would imagine.
BILL MOYERS: Welfare?
SHAHID JACKSON: Yeah, welfare and stuff. And —
BILL MOYERS: That happen a lot, the mother gets public assistance and helps a guy on the side?
SHAHID JACKSON: Oh — I don’t know if you could say that they help them, but you know, there’s a lot of guys that I know that just goes around looking for welfare mothers. And they may have six of them like that, and get a little piece of money out of each of them. That’s their job, you know, that’s their hustle.
BILL MOYERS:. What do you think about welfare?
SHAHID JACKSON: Welfare, to me, some people need it, you know, I’ll be for real, some people really actually need it. And then others take advantage of it
BILL MOYERS: Sondra Alice told me yesterday that she thinks welfare has made her lazy.
SHAHID JACKSON: Yeah, because it’s there. You know that your — your food is going to be there every month, because with welfare finance comes food stamps. And you get Medicaid to covet your medical expenses. Welfare is doing everything. You’re married to welfare, a lot of the womens. They’re more married to welfare than the guy that’s living in the bed next to them, ’cause he’s just a physical thing. The whole backbone of the family is coming out of downtown, or out of uptown offices.
BILL MOYERS: Government offices.
SHAHID JACKSON: Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: Does this cycle of dependency — I mean, what does it do to the values of these kids?
SHAHID JACKSON: Well, they see it as a game, you know. Somebody owes me something. Somebody’s gonna take care of me. There’s not the self-esteem.
BILL MOYERS: What do you think’s ahead for kids like Timothy?
SHAHID JACKSON: Maybe he’ll get shot, or he’ll pick up a gun to protect hisself and then get shot by a police officer pulling it, or he’ll get arrested.
BILL MOYERS: Some of these kids are just losers, aren’t they? Sad as it to say.
SHAHID JACKSON: Yeah. You’re born into a dead end, you know, and you’re in that rut. If you’re born into that type of situation, how do you escape? That’s the biggest question that I would like to answer so I could start getting these kids, you know.
BILL MOYERS: Why do they have kids so early? Why do these children have children? This is a “dead end”, that’s a perfect description for it
SHAHID JACKSON: Well, when I was growing up, sex was almost a dirty word. Now sex is what’s happening, you know. They see sex on TV, sex in the movies, sex everywhere, you know. And some girls think it’s cute, walking down the street pregnant.
BILL MOYERS:Don’t you ever get discouraged?
SHAHID JACKSON: Oh, I get discouraged. I lock people up, get in fights.
BILL MOYERS: Don’t you ever want to walk away from it?
SHAHID JACKSON: Yes, but I feel like so many people has done that. To me, I’m — I hate to lose. I hate to lose, and I never would have started working with kids if I didn’t — you know, for me to walk away from it, it’d feel like I lost.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over]: Dr. George Jackson is a practicing psychologist who teaches at Howard University. He is blind. Three days a week he counsels Newark kids referred to him by the courts and the social workers. Dr. Jackson cannot see, but he has heard over and over what the breakdown of the family means to children.
Dr. GEORGE JACKSON: We see depression, we see terrible anger. We see a lack of expectancy.
BILL MOYERS: What are they angry about?
DR. GEORGE JACKSON: Children are born without any understanding as to how to manage their feelings. And it’s through the training and teaching that these foundations are set. Children who are the children of children are not being trained to understand how to manage their feelings, so they want when they want, what they want, when they want it. And when they don’t get it, they get angry.
BILL MOYERS: I talked to a young man yesterday, 30 now, and he described what happened to him when he was 15, how he took a baseball bat to somebody who’d messed with his girlfriend, how he actually shot somebody who had spit on him. What causes that hair trigger emotion?
DR. GEORGE JACKSON: If you have no respect for life, you then will try to destroy or dismantle another person. It won’t matter to you. Such a person doesn’t have a conscience, and I think that again, we don’t have the foundations. The foundations weren’t set.
BILL MOYERS: We’ve talked to one 27-year-old father. He has seven kids he’s not caring for, seven kids by several different women. Why? Why does that happen?
DR. GEORGE JACKSON: If you’re a rolling stone, and if the father before you was a rolling stone, or there are no values to constrain you from this behavior, then you have — you do this, and you do it with impunity.
BILL MOYERS: It becomes a badge of honor?
DR. GEORGE JACKSON: Right, and it’s the only badge of honor that you expect to get.
BILL MOYERS: Do they feel any sense of guilt over their impotence as fathers?
DR. GEORGE JACKSON: No. Not the kind of guilt that would be appropriate to changing the behavior.
BILL MOYERS: Are we breeding a new outlaw society?
DR. GEORGE JACKSON: We’re breeding a society more that will destroy itself.
BILL MOYERS: So, well, people say, “Well, that doesn’t bother me,” I mean, “as long as they stay in Newark and shoot each other, and mug each other, screw each other, so what do I care?”
DR. GEORGE JACKSON: But wh~t goes around comes around. It may appear that these individuals are on reservations, they’re isolated. But you cannot really divorce yourself from what happens to other people in this country. And if you design a society, a sub society where people will annihilate themselves, it won’t be long before this becomes a disease that infects the entire population.
BILL MOYERS: You don’t think we can run to the suburbs anymore?
DR. GEORGE JACKSON: No, I think you can run, but you can’t hide.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] James Wallace chose not to run or to hide. He learned in his own youth that one person who cares can make a difference.
JAMES WALLACE: When I came up. I wasn’t any — what you would call an angel. I — I did little things. I was a one-parent family. I only had a mother. That’s why I can relate to these kids. But there was another older man that took interest in me and showed me the right way.
BILL MOYERS: And he said to you, “You matter.”
JAMES WALLACE: Yes. Yeah. He said, “You have more to offer than what you’re doing.”
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Twenty years ago, James Wallace began telling young people they mattered. At first, he ran afterschool programs. Now he and his wife, Carolyn, head the International Youth Organization, a community center in the heart of Newark. If James Wallace is a surrogate father to many kids, Carolyn Wallace is a surrogate mother. She’s seen too many children grow up and stumble not to be angry.
CAROLYN WALLACE: If the parent is 17 and 18, uneducated, unmotivated, fooling around, wandering around, what’s the child going to learn? Who’s the teacher? When you learned something, you was taught by your parents. It was reinforced by school and your neighbors, but 1t was taught by your parents. Your parents said, “Bill, you’d better not do that. Don’t put that plug over there. You’re going to get hurt — a whipping,” right? Your parents did it. Well, if the parents don’t know anything, how are they going to teach the children? Now, we have a generation of that kind of thing happening, and the kids are coming up under that. Now we got another generation of lost young people.
BILL MOYERS: Why are there so many single-parent households?
CAROLYN WALLACE: Have you been walking the streets in Newark lately? All our young men are out on the corner, just absolutely doing nothing. That’s the problem.
BILL MOYERS: Why? What’s happened to those young men? What’s happened to the black man?
CAROLYN WALLACE: It’s like they’ve given up. It’s like they’re really not a part of what’s going on.
BILL MOYERS: Why are they not — why have they given up?
CAROLYN WALLACE: There aren’t that many jobs, okay, for the laborer, like there used to be. And they’re just totally unmotivated. And society has made living for the women, without the husband, or without the male, easy.
BILL MOYERS: Oh?
CAROLYN WALLACE: Yeah, welfare. I think welfare is not the best thing for everybody.
BILL MOYERS: Tell me why.
CAROLYN WALLACE: Because it provides you with some kind of income that you so01ier or later just settle for. I know, I was on welfare. I’ve been on welfare.
BILL MOYERS: Are you suggesting that we do away with welfare?
CAROLYN WALLACE: No. I’m saying it has to be upgraded. For instance, I have some young people here that are on welfare, okay, but would like to work. But they can’t work and make a coin, because everything you make is taken away from your check.
BILL MOYERS: Can you push the solution even further back? Is there any way to stop the cycle of teenage pregnancies?
CAROLYN WALLACE: That’s so difficult to even talk about. In my heart I think I have a solution, and I know that it may rub people the wrong way, but I believe that teenage pregnancy cannot be stopped by programs. It has to be morals. And morals come from God. And somewhere along the line, the black family kind of strayed away from that. And I believe we need it.
BILL MOYERS: You say the moral values have changed?
CAROLYN WALLACE: Oh, yes. It’s morally acceptable to have babies. It was not morally acceptable years ago. That’s hurting the black family.[unintelligible] well.
BILL MOYERS: What. I hear you saying is that even though racism may have brought about these circumstances, even though society may have created conditions that — that are terrible, you’re saying, “You have to be responsible. You have to practice discipline, and self-restraint.”
CAROLYN WALLACE: That’s right. We are destroying ourselves. Now, it might have. been motivated and plotted and seeded with racism, but we are content to be in this well now, okay? We’re just content to be in this well now, okay? We’re just content to be in this mud. And we need to get out of it. There aren’t any great, white people running around in this block tearing up stuff, it’s us. We’ve got to stop doing that.
BILL MOYERS: Does the civil rights movement which came to its peak in the ’60s have anything to say to this?
CAROLYN WALLACE: The civil rights to the young people now is a foreign word. What does it really mean to them? They don’t have any knowledge about it. I don’t —
BILL MOYERS: The issue now is different, isn’t it?
CAROLYN WALLACE: -yes, it is. I’m quite sure it is. If Martin Luther King were alive, he would not be talking about the things I think he was talking about, labor, and all that. I think he’d be talking about the black family.
BILL MOYERS: And you’re worried about the survival of the black family. You think it’s precarious?
CAROLYN WALLACE: Because in — it’s going to be an endangered species.
BILL MOYERS: ·Even though the message is that kids are getting from society seems to say, “Do anything you want to,” the United States government, the government of New Jersey, a white man like Moyers cannot step in and say to young black kids, “It’s not right to have children out of wedlock,” “welfare needs to be changed,” “you’ve got to take responsibility.” Who’s going t.o say these things to these kids?
CAROLYN WALLACE: Why can’t you say it?
BILL MOYERS: They won’t listen to me.
CAROLYN WALLACE: It doesn’t make any difference. You’ve got to say it anyway. They may not listen to me, either. But I’m saying if you say it in your comer, and I say it in my comer, and everybody is saying it, it’s going to be like a drumbeat, and sooner or later it will sound. But it’s not just for me to talk about, it’s for all of us to talk about. And it — and I think it’s going to surpass colors. And you’re not going to be safe, I’m not going to be safe, and nobody’s going to be safe, unless we all send out this drumbeat. Hey, let’s deal with it. Let’s deal with the problem.
BILL MOYERS: That was three years ago, 1986. In the most recent figures from the federal government, there’s nothing to cheer. Among whites, the number of children born out of wedlock is a high and growing 16 percent, and that’s bad enough.’ But for blacks, it’s far, far worse. While birth rates for black teens, married and unmarried, have been declining somewhat, more than three out of every five black babies, over 60 percent, are born to single women. When the documentary aired, it instantly became part of the debate in Washington over welfare reform. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, long a leader in this field, was already at work with others on new legislation. Aides of Ronald Reagan saw the documentary and persuaded the President to call for action in his State of the Union message. Well, last year Congress did pass the most dramatic revision of welfare in 53 years. It requires single parents on welfare to get regular jobs once their children are over three years old. If they can’t get jobs immediately, they’re to enroll in educational and job training programs paid by state and federal agencies. States are to provide child care, so that the welfare mothers can go to work, and there are provisions to enforce child support from absent fathers. Obviously, we won’t see the impact of this legislation for a long time. Those young single mothers who have never finished high school or never held jobs remain on welfare longest. They consume most of its resources, and they need the most education to graduate from welfare to the work force. It’ll be hard to get jobs that don’t exist, and it will be hard to collect child support from unemployed men. Neither the documentary nor welfare reform addressed the underlying pathology of the permanent ghetto, where low-skilled jobs have practically disappeared, and drugs enable the user to feel good and the seller to get rich. Nor has popular culture taken Carolyn Wallace up on her message to send out the drumbeat. Last Sunday night, I watched one of our commercial networks promote its upcoming afternoon soaps and its prime-time movies. Every image projected the instant gratification of casual sex. The message of the medium is “Just say yes.” I’ll talk about some of these issues with two people who are trying to cope with the crisis in black America, but first, let’s take a second look at some of the people who told us their stories in “The Vanishing Family.” [voice-over] Alice Cassandra Jackson died shortly after the documentary was first broadcast, apparently from injuries sustained when she fell during a seizure. Her funeral brought an outpouring of sympathy from the community, and was attended by Jesse Jackson, among others.
Rev. JESSE JACKSON: Alice is America’s challenge. Alice is America’s opportunity.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over].: Alice’s three children, now four, five and six years old, live with her mother, Nora Jackson, a day care teacher who has moved out of the Central Ward projects into a house. Their father, Timothy McSeed, hasn’t been around to see the children in over a year, but the boys have male role models in Mrs. Jackson’s four sons; who live with her and all of whom hold jobs. The last thing we heard of Timothy McSeed, he was still without steady work and experiencing difficulties with the law; Carolyn Wallace told us she had offered him a job last year at her community center, but after about a week, he stopped showing up for work. Brenda Wardrick married Lamont Banks last year, and Lamont has been working as a maintenance supervisor for a group of apartments. Brenda still goes down to North Carolina every year for her family reunion. Her teenage children have jobs this summer through a city-sponsored program which pays them $4.75 an hour. Bernard Wardrick, now 20, still pursues a career in music.
Earlier this summer he played the Apollo Theater in New York. He is vice president of a group he helped to form called the OMPP Product and the Righteous Force. His younger brother, Turk, is with the group and they work to interest younger children in music. Bernard also became a father last September. Although not married, he says that he sees a lot of his son and helps to support him financially. He says that having a son makes him feel more responsible. Gloria, Clarinda and Shaquana Henderson have moved several times without forwarding address or phone number. We were not able to locate them or Darren Lyle. Detective Shahid Jackson left the Police Athletic League in 1987 when the Newark city administration changed. Now he’s assigned to the Truancy Task Force. He’s still working with young people, trying to make a difference. Like Shahid Jackson, Jim and Carolyn Wallace haven’t given up, either. Their International Youth Organization now offers programs in leadership development, crisis intervention and vocational training and education. The Public Welfare Foundation gave them some financial help after the documentary aired, but fundraising remains a problem. Jim Wallace has trained young men for trades like carpentry and electronics, but for these young men to get jobs, Jim told us, they have to join a union; and the unions are full, closed to new members. Jim told us of one young drug pusher who came to him for a job. He said he wanted it to take care of his family and didn’t want to go back to jail. But jobs are still hard to come by in Newark, and Jim couldn’t find one for him. “Nothing frustrated me more,” he said, “than to have this boy reach out to me, wanting to change his life, and not being able to steer him to a job.” Oh, yes. The drummer we filmed on the street for the opening of the documentary? Well, Shahid Jackson says the rock group Kool and the Gang donated him a new set of drums, and he’s now earning money playing for church groups on Sunday.
[on camera] Here now to discuss some of the questions raised by “The Vanishing Family” are two people who work with young men and women like those we met in the documentary. Ed Pitt wears two hats for the National Urban League here in New York City. He is director of health and environmental services, and director of the adolescent male responsibilities program. He’s also the father of a 25-year-old son. Byllye Avery is executive director of the National Black Women’s Health Project, based in Atlanta. Widowed at the age of 33, she has raised two children on her own.
[interviewing] Ms. Avery, when you talk to single young women about getting pregnant, what do you find out?
BYLLYE AVERY: Well, one of the first things that they say when you ask the question, “Why did you get pregnant so early in life?” is the — you become aware that women — these women are not aware of many choices for them. Most of us are alienated we’re isolated and we feel powerless. And we are left to deal with what happens to us, rather than understanding that we can be in charge of our lives. So what happens is that women are forced to live in conditions that they really don’t want.
BILL MOYERS: But aren’t they aware of — of the consequences of an undesired pregnancy?
BYLLYE AVERY: Of course they are. But what are their choices?
BILL MOYERS: To say no, is that not a choice?
BYLLYE AVERY: Not really. Not when you have no other options. If you’re talking about someo.ne who is relating to a circle of people, and who have needs —
BILL MOYERS: Peer pressure? Peer pressure? ·
BYLLYE AVERY: -who have needs, just your plain old needs. To feel close, to be held, to be touched. And you take it in the form that it comes. If you have not had an opportunity to self-examine yourself, to get support while you make changes, to look for something different in the world, then we sit, and things happen to us rather than being in charge of them.
BILL MOYERS: Mr. Pitt, when· you talk to single young men, often teenage boys, about fathering children out of wedlock, what do you find out?
ED PITT: A lot of the — boys that I talk to initially want — they identify with parenting. That is not always a negative development, but their actual roles and what is expected of them and how they’re going to carry out those roles have not been thought through and it does not necessarily — it does not come to them automatically once the condition or situation presents itself. Most of them are very confused at that point, and they don’t necessarily — they don’t really get the kind of support, advice, assistance from either — oftentimes within their own families, or from the families of the girls. There are very few institutions in the community that really are available to advise, counsel and help boys. They are literally the most neglected, if you wanted to go to a vanishing family, and you want to get to your theme, which was the thing that really concerned me very, very seriously when I saw the original showing of the play — of the documentary, was the fact that nobody really talked about how neglected boys are in communities. Young African-American kids now, youth, adolescents, are so grossly neglected that they feel underappreciated, and undervalued so much, that anything that represents an — and they’re very confused about what is an opportunity —
BYLLYE AVERY: Right.
ED PITT: -about what is a positive outcome, of what is a negative outcome. Some of the things that we think are negative outcomes, they think are very positive.
BILL MOYERS: Such as?
ED PITT: Such as the ability to parent. Every spring, if you come to a park in New York City, you will see baby carriages come out into the park, and you will see kids gather around the baby carriages to see the new babies, to see the new little cute baby with the little earrings, and the little cute clothes, and the mother gets some play, and the father gets some play about how cute that little baby was. And so parenting is an event, is one of the kind of events that serve the same purpose for those kids who have very limited opportunity that it serves for adults when they find themselves in — hopefully have been looking forward to becoming pregnant, find themselves pregnant and go around with their kid. That’s a big event, and one of the few really genuinely major accomplishments that they can point to at that time.
BILL MOYERS: Is it hopeless? I mean, both of you are working to try to do something with these young people. What are you doing that specifically gives you some reason to believe the situation can change?
BYLLYE AVERY: First of all is a validation and a recognition that the affected population has the answers.
BILL MOYERS: How do you do that?
BYLLYE AVERY: Sit and talk with them.
BILL MOYERS: So you —
BYLLYE AVERY: Just as we are sitting here.
BILL MOYERS: -gather these women?
BYLLYE AVERY: We gather the women together, in small groups, 10, 12, 15. Takes quite some time for them to unlearn the behavior of keeping silent. See, the biggest weapon that we have on this thing is for us to learn how to talk to each other. And I don’t mean to talk up here. I mean to really talk. How are you really doing? What has your life been like for you? To share that information. Now, what we have are women speaking the truth of their lives to their daughters and their sons for the first times.
BILL MOYERS: Saying?
BYLLYE AVERY: Talking about things that have happened to them, talking, speak — breaking the silence around domestic violence, which mirrors the frustrations that the men and women feel. Understanding and talking and getting men to talk openly with each other the way we are talking. What has it been like for you being a black man in this culture? I can’t do that as a black woman. I grew up as a black girl, I can certainly tell you about that, but the men need to speak to it. And they are our natural allies, and they are a. powerful force. They are a powerful force. But you have to take the risk to speak the truth of what has happened to you in order to do this analysis. So what we see are women understanding that they do have control, that I can delay a pregnancy. That I can get myself from living in public housing, if that is what I want to do. That I can establish networks, that I can access the system, that I can be viewed differently. But see, you can’t legislate what happens inside of people. So you can have all the laws you want, you can say they have to go to work after their child is three years old, you can say they have to get a job, but who is supplying the inner motivation? And see, most of the programs, they just come with all these overlays, and they lay it over the bad feelings, the sense of no empowerment, the low self-esteem that people had, and they expect them all of a sudden to rise up and be good, quote-unquote, American citizens. And we are saying, what is that? It has to come from inside.
BILL MOYERS: What about the young men, Mr. Pitt? Are you finding some — are there some examples of success? ·
ED PITT: The problem that we find with adolescent males, especially African American adolescent males, is that there is a really hostile environment —
BYLLYE AVERY: Absolutely.
ED PITT: -here in this country for us, not them, for us, because I am, and I sense it, I wear a beard and· I walk the streets. And I find that people literally are, in this society, are afraid of African-American males, and therefore they don’t really reach out in a very open way to being particularly helpful to them. Let me give you an example. The centers for health statistics, back in the fall, released some statistics that showed that the life expectancy for African Americans decreased in 1985 and 1986. Two consecutive years, the last years they had data for. First time that’s the first time that has happened since they’ve been keeping statistics, that on two consecutive years, the life expectancy decreased for any group; If you follow what I am trying to say about this — neglect, if somebody was trying to say that for two years, white males in America were dying at new highs, there would be some special initiative put in place immediately, to reverse that. In New Jersey, last year… I think it was last year — three teenagers in one suburban community committed suicide. Three teenagers, in a very short period of time, committed suicide. That town rallied around those families and got together, and the first thing they did was, hired a psychologist and hired a social worker to start working with their youth, to find out what was happening in their lives that made them want to take their — that made them consider suicide. And start putting together programs and services to involve them, to help them overcome their boredom, to move them away, to understand and deal with it. That behavior, that response, showed that that community had high value for the life of those youths, and was not about to stand by and watch them get wiped out. Yet when we see the statistics of all of the African-American males who are dying at these high rates now, that’s not even a cause for any special recognition by our government and by our governmental officials.
BILL MOYERS: All right, give me some — go ahead.
BYLLYE AVERY: See, what we have are the resources kind of turned upside down. We have the resources going to the people who need it the less, and the ones who need it the most get the worst. I’m talking about our schools. Schools that serve low-income families need to be the very best
ED PITT: That’s right.
BYLLYE AVERY: They need to have the most creative teachers. We need to have the best technology. We need everything we can have, because we’re talking a population that started disadvantaged. But what we have, you should go to the country day schools, you go to the private schools, they got all the good teachers, they got all the money, they got all the resources. We need the same thing you need. Poor people need ‘the same thing — poor black women and men need the same thing as white men and women, to have healthy babies, to have educated children, to have families. And I want to talk about — I want to say something about this single family and this vanishing family, because they have not vanished. People are families. I was a family raising my two children. I was not a — not an “unfamily.” And not a single parent, I was a double parent.
BILL MOYERS: You’re saying the definition of family has to change?
BYLLYE AVERY: Absolutely. Absolutely.
BILL MOYERS: So what —
ED PITT: That’s hitting the nail right on the point. The fact of the matter is, the family — the concept of family, the definition of family is in a state of change in this society. And the only people who are being held to a rigid formula for what a family is are poor people who are receiving welfare.
BYLLYE AVERY: Right.
ED PITT: We are saying that poor people who are receiving welfare should be more moral.
BYLLYE AVERY: Right.
ED PITT: We are saying they should understand family dynamics, and be able to manage and keep their families — keep in a traditional mode, while the rest of society is experimenting with all kind of family forms.
BYLLYE AVERY: Right, right.
BILL MOYERS: All right. You both have made a very strong case about society’s role, and about the neglect of the African-American who is poor. But what about the responsibility, the individual responsibility, of the young men you deal with?
ED PITT: Well, I believe, first of all, that nobody has a more — has a greater vested interest in my survival and my thriving than myself, and my family. And then there — an extension of that is my community and my race. So I certainly think that the bottom line is, I am responsible for me and my family. Bottom line; And therefore, whatever happens to me, I insist on having something to say about it. Now, what we are trying to, in fact, get our young people to understand is our — especially our young men, is that while they see these forms flashing around in society, and while they are in — while they’re attracted to all these things they see on television and how they see pop stars and popular culture behaving, that they cannot afford to behave that way. That’s not necessarily right, that’s not necessarily good. We have a program in place in New Orleans called Rescue One, where each — where a person is~ a “each one teach one” kind of situation where a successful middle-class black family gets involved with a poor kid who’s struggling, in almost a big-brother way, becomes that person’s tutor, becomes that person’s contact point for making it through the society.
BILL MOYERS: How’s that working? Because one of the complaints one often hears is that like the white middle class, which flees the poverty areas when we· can, the black middle class has left the inner city, left the community; as you say, and does not want a part of what it escaped from. So is Rescue One actually producing any results?
ED PITT: Yes, it is.
BILL MOYERS: Is it pulling in the middle class?
ED PITT: Rescue One is just an example of it. Rescue One definitely has shown a result, and —
BILL MOYERS: You’re getting bankers, you’re getting —
ED PITT: -we are getting — we are getting on a regular basis now, men who are calling the National Urban League, and calling local Urban Leagues and calling other groups and saying, “How can we get involved in programs?” And that’s what I’m hoping, that a replay of your fine — your documentary that received a lot of attention in the society, will at least begin to project more of those two heroes at the end of your program. They’ve — the youth organization —
BILL MOYERS: Carolyn and Jim Wallace, and Shahid Jackson.
ED PITT: -individuals, and Mr. Jackson.
BYLLYE AVERY: They’re having a hard time.
BILL MOYERS: They’re having a hard time.
ED PITT: Because those individuals were there then, they’ve always been in our community. Unfortunately, they don’t get the support. Like we just saw, Officer Jackson was taken away from his role, and given another role and responsibility. He’s still working. We need to support and encourage — I would have thought that somebody seeing Officer Jackson in that situation would have just rallied to his aid, and he would have been a big man in Newark by now, head of some youth commission, instead of now doing truancy work. I would have imagined that the youth organization would have been swamped with people giving them contributions, or volunteering to work with them, or doing a lot of things, because that’s the kind of support. The fact that they didn’t get that, that you came up with the scenario — that you found what you found, going back, for those particular individuals and organizations, underline and reinforce the point that I make that there is not really a will or desire to really do anything within these communities, in our black community.
BILL MOYERS: Last word. Last word is yours.
BYLLYE AVERY: What I think needs to happen for us, among the women, is we have to first learn how to love ourselves. That’s it really — and how to take care of ourselves. Ourselves first. Then, as we learn that, we share that with our partners, our husbands, our lovers, et cetera, we share that with our young people. And that’s how we grow to be a dignified, caring, whole society.
BILL MOYERS: On that note we finish. Thank you, Byllye Avery, and thank you, Ed Pitt. I’m Bill Moyers.
This transcript was entered on June 25, 2015.