The black family is in a time of crisis, and blacks who have "made it" have an obligation to give something back to their community, said a panel at St. Petersburg Junior College. Tuesday's panel was one of several programs for Black History Month at area colleges. The panelists said that successful blacks often move out of their neighborhoods, and children growing up today in some areas have few positive role models of stable nuclear families. That is something black professionals can offer.
"One of the trade-offs of integration is that everybody who was aggressive and wanted to be somebody moved out of those communities," said the Rev. Wilkins Garrett Jr. of the Mount Zion Progressive Baptist Church. "There are children who have never seen a normal family. The church is going to have to provide surrogate parents, and those of us who have made it are going to have to take a more aggressive role in going back."
Garrett, whose church at 958 20th St. S is near the Jordan Park housing complex, said one of the main enemies of the black family is crack cocaine. He said that on a recent drive around town, he saw 10 crack transactions by children under age 15. His church, which runs a lunch program, often feeds the children of crack-addicted mothers.
"We have a mother with four babies who says she loves her children," he said. "But she spends her whole welfare check and sells all her food stamps for crack. Children have to see a man who is not a drug pusher and a decent mother who works."
If crack is one problem, teen-age pregnancies is another. Gwen Reese Peaton, director of YWCA/Project HELP, a program to help pregnant teen-agers, gave the group of about 35 students some disturbing statistics.
Nationwide, 1.1-million teen-agers become pregnant each year, she said. Of those, about half have their babies. Of those who have their babies, almost all keep them, meaning there are half a million children born each year to teen-age mothers, she said. In Pinellas County in 1988, there were 830 teen-age births, half to white mothers and half to black. Black pregnant teen-agers tend to be younger than their white counterparts, she said.
Ms. Peaton offered a profile of a teen-ager with a good chance of becoming pregnant.
"She is an urban teen living in a slum with a large number of siblings," she said. "And if her mother was a pregnant teen-ager, she has a 57 percent chance of becoming a teen-age mother herself."
She also called for successful blacks to "reach back" and give young blacks something to be proud of.
"Because you've made it is not the end, we have to become role models," she said. "The clock and the stoplight were invented by blacks. We have to understand our history and heritage and know that it's okay to dream."
However, black history is also one of slavery and oppression, said Dr. Charles Felton, director of the Pinellas County Jail since 1981, and that history has made the black family unstable.
"Drugs and teen-age pregnancies are a manifestation of an already weak family structure," he said. "We are not doing as well as we should but we are as stable as we have ever been."
He also said that blacks are disproportionately represented in the prison system. Blacks, who make up about 10 percent of the population in Pinellas County, comprise 28 percent of those arrested, and 54 percent of those serving jail terms, he said. Both he and Garrett said that the judicial system is unfair to blacks.
"When I got to the jail it was racially segregated," he said. "Once you (blacks) go to court, the possibility of being convicted is greater. At each stage of the judicial process blacks are discriminated against."
He also said that the black family will become stronger as the number of blacks in the middle class increases.