Dads matter

  In a town 40 miles north of Seattle in late 2002 a group of young men (mostly white wanna-be gang-bangers) beat an 18 year-old girl: The trail of tragedy that led Rachel Burkheimer to her grave. They then stuffed her in a duffel bag (she was still alive), took her out into the woods, dug a shallow grave, stripped her, shoved her in and then executed her.
  Our glass house has a lot of holes in it.
  I hope people wake up.

Role models help rescue troubled teens
By Leonard Pitts Jr.

   “I sure hope Timothy doesn't come to school today.”
  It was when that thought came to mind, says Frederica Wilson, surveying the faces at the conference table in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools headquarters, that she knew she had a problem. After all, she was a school principal, a black woman. And Timothy was a student, a black boy. But Timothy was also a terror and as she drove to school, she found herself hoping he wouldn't be there.
  The thought shocked her. If she dreaded Timothy, she says, how must her Hispanic and white teachers have felt about him? And why was it every time she held a disciplinary conference, it was for a black boy? Why were they the ones who always seemed to be in trouble?
  So she started meeting with them, “trying to find out why they were so angry and why they were so disruptive and why they wanted to fight all the time.” Then she started calling men in to help her.
  Fourteen years and more than 15,000 boys later, Wilson is a Florida state senator and the mentoring effort she started has become the 5000 Role Models of Excellence. It operates in 91 Miami-area schools and claims better than 95 percent success at keeping its boys out of trouble with school officials and the law.
  Full disclosure: Years ago, I spoke at a Role Models assembly. I think it's a fine example of What Works. As in, my series of columns profiling programs that improve the odds for black kids. Wilson and some of the Role Model men are joined at the conference table by graphic evidence that their program works: boys who became men under its guidance.
  One of them is Kionne McGhee. Child of a single mother, he was suspended 47 times, labeled emotionally handicapped and learning disabled. Today he is an assistant state attorney. “The problem was, I was acting out because I needed a black male or somebody that could relate to me,” he says, as opposed to someone who understood him only “through theory.”
  Police sergeant Thurman MacNeal is one of 3,000 men who have trained as Role Models. As a black cop whose interactions with black boys too often involve handcuffs, he says, it can be “discouraging because so many of these young men have so much talent it's amazing. But because of other things that are going on with them and because those talents are not being developed . . .” The thought trails away.
  “We have to start somewhere,” he says, “and this program has allowed us . . . to make a difference.”
The program is funded by the school system and by private and corporate sponsors. Its components are many: workshops; scholarships; a basketball tournament; peer, group and one-on-one mentoring; and field trips, including to those opposite poles of black male potential: colleges and penitentiaries. There is a Role Model pledge, a Role Model hymn, custom-made Role Model athletic shoes and even a Role Model tie. It bears the program's logo: large hands touching small ones. Each boy wears one.
  To be surrounded by black men who are productive members of society, says Wilson, allows those boys to envision themselves becoming the same. “I believe children who have a vision of themselves in the future have hope. And without a vision of yourself in the future, you don't value your life and consequently, you don't value the lives of others.”
  It works, says 20-year-old Joseph Dubery, because “it's not a pamphlet saying, ‘Don't do drugs.’ It's different levels you have to earn. You earn your tie, you earn your shirt, you earn the right to say that pledge, you earn the right to sing that hymn. It's constant achievement, constant mentorship, constantly people watching out for you.”
  Dubery, a med student, should know. He used to be a Role Model boy.


Paul Harvey Writes

  We tried so hard to make things better for our kids that we made them worse. For my grandchildren, I'd like better. I'd really like for them to know about hand me down clothes and homemade ice cream and leftover meat loaf sandwiches. I really would.
  I hope you learn humility by being humiliated, and that you learn honesty by being cheated.
  I hope you learn to make your own bed and mow the lawn and wash the car. And I really hope nobody gives you a brand new car when you are sixteen.
  It will be good if at least one time you can see puppies born and your old dog put to sleep.
  I hope you get a black eye fighting for something you believe in.
  I hope you have to share a bedroom with your younger brother/sister. And it's all right if you have to draw a line down the middle of the room, but when he wants to crawl under the covers with you because he's scared, I hope you let him. When you want to see a movie and your little brother/sister wants to tag along, I hope you'll let him/her.
  I hope you have to walk uphill to school with your friends and that you live in a town where you can do it safely.
  On rainy days when you have to catch a ride, I hope you don't ask your driver to drop you two blocks away so you won't be seen riding with someone as uncool as your Mom.
  If you want a slingshot, I hope your Dad teaches you how to make one instead of buying one.
  I hope you learn to dig in the dirt and read books. When you learn to use computers, I hope you also learn to add and subtract in your head.
  I hope you get teased by your friends when you have your first crush on a boy\girl, and when you talk back to your mother that you learn what ivory soap tastes like.
  May you skin your knee climbing a mountain, burn your hand on a stove and stick your tongue on a frozen flagpole.
  I don't care if you try a beer once, but I hope you don't like it. And if a friend offers you dope or a joint, I hope you realize he is not your friend. I sure hope you make time to sit on a porch with your Grandma/Grandpa and go fishing with your Uncle. May you feel sorrow at a funeral and joy during the holidays.
  I hope your mother/dad punishes you when you throw a baseball through your neighbor's window and that he/she hugs you and kisses you at Hannukah/Christmas time when you give her a plaster mold of your hand.
  These things I wish for you - tough times and disappointment, hard work and happiness. To me, it's the only way to appreciate life.
  Written with a pen. Sealed with a kiss. I'm here for you. And if I die before you do, I'll go to heaven and wait for you.

The political statement in Mary Cheney's womb
Leonard Pitts Jr.
Feb. 16, 2007

  Five words you will never hear from me again in life:
  I agree with James Dobson.
  Dr. Dobson is the founder of Focus on the Family, a conservative activist group, and ordinarily, I couldn't see eye to eye with him on the day of the week. But I agree with him about Mary Cheney.
  He wrote about the vice president's pregnant, lesbian daughter in a Time magazine essay in December. Here's part of what he said:
  "With all due respect to Cheney and her partner, Heather Poe, the majority of more than 30 years of social-science evidence indicates that children do best on every measure of well-being when raised by their married mother and father. That is not to say Cheney and Poe will not love their child. But love alone is not enough to guarantee healthy growth and development. The two most loving women in the world cannot provide a daddy for a little boy — any more than the two most loving men can be complete role models for a little girl."
  In other words, fathers matter, something we seem to have forgotten, so busy are we pretending that women and men are interchangeable. My problem with Cheney and Poe is the same problem I'd have with a heterosexual single mom who decided to make herself a baby without benefit of a man in her life. It seems part and parcel of the diminution of fatherhood.
  Adopt a child? Sure. Are you gay? Fine. Forced to rear a child alone after you've been widowed or abandoned? God bless. But please don't make this tacit statement that fathers don't matter. They do.
  That said, who among us believes the ongoing uproar over Mary Cheney's baby springs solely, or even primarily, from concerns about the need for fathers? What has people exercised isn't that no dad will be in the child's life, but that two moms will.
  Cheney broke her silence on the subject recently. Speaking in New York on a panel sponsored by Glamour magazine, she gestured toward her stomach and said, "This is a baby. This is a blessing from God. It is not a political statement. It is not a prop to be used in a debate by people on either side of an issue. It is my child."
  She is wrong. What Mary Cheney has in her womb is both a child and a political statement. One is reminded of how a simple act like drinking from a public fountain once became a political statement because some people said other people ought not have the right to do such things.
  Similarly, although women all over America are carrying babies right now, Mary Cheney and any other lesbian woman who does the same unavoidably makes a political statement. Because some people believe they ought not have the right to do such things.
  And no small number of those people serve or support the administration her father represents. The week before Mary Cheney spoke her piece, Dick Cheney had a testy exchange with Wolf Blitzer of CNN. Blitzer asked whether the veep would like to respond to conservatives who have criticized his daughter.
Mr. Charm barked that Blitzer was "out of line."
  He, too, is wrong. The Bush administration has used gays as Southern politicians once used (and often, still do use) blacks — as scapegoats, boogeymen, distractions. Largely because of that, Heather Poe will have no legal parental rights to "her" child.
  Dick Cheney is that administration's No. 2 official. So there is nothing "out of line" in asking him about any of this.
  Still, I feel for Mary Cheney. It can't be easy to have people impose their narratives upon your pregnancy. But this particular pregnancy has the effect of putting a face on the abstract. What many of us have discussed in theory, we must now contend with in fact.
  And maybe the bottom line is that the baby will do what babies always do: It will change the dynamic. It will say, here I am, world, ready or not.
Seems to me that's a political statement, too.
  Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr.'s column appears Sunday on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is:

The father counts as more than a figure
Feb.23, 2007

  I'll tell you when I decided -- apologies to Ricky Ricardo -- I had some splainin' to do.
  It was a few days ago, when I got an e-mail informing me that I am an ''anti-gay bigot.'' Which would be a shock to the system at any time, but seems especially ironic coming as it does a few weeks before I am supposed to receive an award from PFLAG -- Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
  The source of this ire? A column I wrote about Mary Cheney, who is a lesbian, pregnant and the daughter of the vice president. I thought it was a bad idea for Cheney and her life mate, Heather Poe, to have a baby, and I noted that this is an opinion I share with Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family fame.
Which caused a few folks to fire off scandalized notes wondering how I function without benefit of a brain. Or a heart.

  I suppose you can't blame them for going nuclear at an expression of solidarity with Dobson, who is not known for his enlightened attitude toward gays. For the record, had he couched his objection in terms of antipathy toward gays, I'd have happily torn him a new orifice. But he did not. What he said was something I have often said myself: Children need fathers.
  That argument, for me, at least, is not about sexual orientation. My objection to Cheney and Poe is precisely the same one I have to heterosexual single women who decide to conceive children without benefit of a stable and involved father. I believe that our slide toward a fatherless society, a society where the male parent is considered optional, irrelevant or interchangeable, is toxic for our children.
  That concern is buttressed by a growing body of research -- UC Santa Barbara, 1996; University of Pennsylvania, 1997; Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania, 1998; London School of Economics and Princeton University, 2002 -- which tells us the child raised without his or her biological father is significantly more likely to live in poverty, do poorly in school, drop out altogether, become a teen parent, exhibit behavioral problems, smoke, drink, use drugs, or wind up in jail.

  So dad's involvement would seem vital to a child's well-being. And in reading those e-mails, I was repeatedly struck by the blithe way people disregarded that fact, by how eagerly they assured me fathers bring nothing to the table that cannot be replaced by an uncle, a coach, a family friend or other ''father figure.'' As one woman put it: ``To say that chromosomes or genitalia dictate the chances of happiness or success . . . for a family really makes no sense.''
  Actually, what makes no sense is to pretend that you can remove a father from a child's life and have the child not notice. I mean, can you imagine anyone daring to make the argument that children lose nothing if their mother abandons them, that the emotional support, nurturing and unqualified love she brings to the home can be readily replaced by the friendly lady down the street? Of course not. That some of us so airily make that exact argument about fathers speaks volumes about our lack of respect for -- and understanding of -- fatherhood itself.
  I have nothing against father figures. I had one. I am one. But a father figure is not a father.
  I also have nothing against gay adoptive parents or mothers left single by tragedy, divorce or abandonment. I admire them.
  But as 16 percent of white kids and a whopping 51 percent of black ones grow up father-free, facing all the difficulties that portends, I definitely have something against the idea, whether advanced by straight women or lesbians, that father is unnecessary, that so long as there's some uncle around to show a boy how to hit the mark in the toilet, everything is hunky dory.
  A woman has the right to use her body as she sees fit. I don't argue that.
  But it seems to me her child has a few rights, too.

For sake of kids, society, dads must step up

  VIOLENCE HIT HOME this summer -- teen thugs at Third and Pine, gunshots that claimed lives on city sidewalks, a barrage of bullets during a fracas near Pike Place Market.
  What was behind this wildness in Seattle?
  Angry, rootless young people who more than likely come from families in which their parents either failed to instill positive values -- or weren't around at all.
  But now, a group of Seattle scholars, justice officials and church leaders are addressing issues such as violence in the community by working to restore a fundamental unit of society -- the family.
  That explains why more than 100 people gathered this weekend at the First AME Church on Capitol Hill. It was a wake-up call with a tough-love title – “SOS: Dad, Where Are You?”
  Bottom line: Fathers need to be a part of families, raise their children and provide emotional and financial support. Otherwise, the negative cycle of wayward kids falling to crime or becoming neglectful parents will go on.
  “There are ways you can come together and support your child, regardless of your circumstances,” King County Juvenile Court Judge LeRoy McCullough, one of the speakers, told me during a break.
  Standing at his side was Margaret Spearmon, an associate dean at the University of Washington School of Social Work, who echoed the importance of role models at home. Saturday's gathering, she said, also was a way to show support for parents who are “doing the right thing.”
  Their on-point perspectives came the day before entertainer Bill Cosby took to national airwaves. Continuing to keep the plight of young African Americans in the spotlight, Cosby just co-wrote, "Come on People: On the Path from Victims to Victors."
  “For the last generation or two, as our communities dissolved and our parenting skills broke down, no one has suffered more than our young black men,” the book states.
  The book also points to a statistic that captures the bleakness: "In 1950, five out of every six black children were born into a two-parent home. Today, that number is less than two out of six. ... There are whole blocks with scarcely a married couple, whole blocks without responsible males to watch out for wayward boys, whole neighborhoods in which little girls and boys come of age without seeing up close a committed partnership."
  Why is this significant?
  “Because children need the guidance,” Cosby said in an interview Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." "Because the other parent needs help as well."
  His co-writer, Dr. Alvin Poussaint, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, said 70 percent of black babies are born to single mothers in the United States each year, and studies show that the involvement of fathers with families is important for healthy child development.
  Which brings us back to Seattle's First AME on Saturday, where experts offered a dose of straight talk. Around several tables, the discussion centered on the need for parents to stay involved in their kids' lives even if the mother and father aren't together.
  Several men stressed the importance of an estranged couple not bad-mouthing each other around their children.
  “Boys see this,” one man said. “That's where they learn how to treat women.”
  And one woman had a reminder for other women to support the father's involvement: “My ex-husband is not an ex-father. He's still my children's father.”
  At one table a linebacker- sized man broke down and cried, describing the challenge of being a good father and provider.
  Seattle has lifelines -- programs such as First AME's FRESH Start (Fatherhood Responsibility Engagement and Services in Head Start) offer parenting classes, job training referrals and counseling assistance. DADS (Divine Alternatives for Dads Services) supports fathers so they can support families.
  Cosby gets it right when he says the glorification of gang culture and anti-intellectualism have created a crisis, and now, dads are sliding away from personal responsibility.
  But Cosby gets it wrong by suggesting that people across the board don't care.
They do -- just ask those who sacrificed a sunny fall Saturday to find a positive path and challenge the victim mentality.
  P-I columnist Robert L. Jamieson Jr. can be reached at 206-448-8125 or

You call it a "prank," but I call it terror
Leonard Pitts Jr.,
The  Miami Herald
October 14, 2007
A history of rope -- and shame

  It strikes me that such a history is desperately needed just now. It seems the travesty in Jena, La., has spawned a ghastly trend. Remember how white students at Jena High placed nooses in a tree last year to communicate antipathy toward their African American classmates? Now it's happening all over.

  A noose is left for a black workman at a construction site in the Chicago area. In Queens, a woman brandishes a noose to threaten her black neighbors. A noose is left on the door of a black professor at Columbia University. Go back a little further and you have incidents at the University of Maryland, at a police department on Long Island, on a Coast Guard cutter, in a bus maintenance garage in Pittsburgh.
  Mark Potok, the director of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center told USA Today, "For a dozen incidents to come to the public's attention is a lot. I don't generally see noose incidents in a typical month. We might hear about a handful in a year."
  Jena's superintendent of schools famously dismissed the original incident as a "prank." It was an astonishing response, speaking volumes about the blithe historical ignorance of people who have found it convenient not to peer too closely at the atrocities of the past.
  But watching this trend unfold, it occurs to me that maybe what we need is the opposite of ignorance. Maybe what we need is information. Maybe what we need is a history of rope.
  A history of rope would have to include, in 1904, Luther Holbert and his wife, who had their fingers chopped off and handed out as souvenirs. Holbert was beaten so badly one of his eyes came out. It hung by a thread. A large corkscrew was used to bore into the couple's flesh. It tore out big chunks of them each time it was withdrawn. A rope was used to tie them to the tree.
  A history of rope would have to include, in 1917, Rufus Moncrief, who was beaten senseless by a mob. They used a saw to cut off his arms and otherwise mutilated him. The mob hanged Moncrief. Then, for good measure, they hanged his dog. Ropes were used for both.
  A history of rope would have to include, in 1918, Mary Turner, burned alive in Valdosta, Ga. A man used a hog-splitting knife to slash her swollen stomach. The baby she had carried nearly to term tumbled out and managed two cries before the man crushed its head beneath his heel. A rope was used to tie Turner upside down in a tree.
  A history of rope would include thousands of Turners, Moncriefs and Holberts. It would range widely across the geography of this nation and the years of the last two centuries. A history of rope would travel from Cairo, Ill., in 1909 to Fort Lauderdale in 1935 to Urbana, Ohio, in 1897 to Wrightsville, Ga., in 1903, to Leitchfield, Ken., in 1913 to Newbern, Tenn. in 1902. And beyond.
  You might say the country has changed since then, and it has. The problem is, it's changing again.
  It feels as if in recent years we the people have backwards traveled from even the pretense of believing our loftiest ideals. It has become fashionable to decry excessive "political correctness," deride "diversity," sneer at the "protected classes." Code words sanding down hatred's rough edge. "State's rights" for the new millennium. And now, out come the nooses. Just a prank, the man says.
  Mary Turner would argue otherwise. I find it useful to remember her, useful to be reminded of things we would rather forget. To remember her is to understand that there is no prank here.
  A history of rope would drown your conscience in blood.