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Commentary: Black men must reclaim our children

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  • Martin: Nearly 70 percent of black kids are born to unmarried parents
  • Martin: Black fathers need to stay on the scene, build relationships with kids
  • Martin: We also should be telling black women not to lie down with any fool
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By Roland S. Martin
CNN contributor
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In this op-ed first published several months ago on CNN.com, contributor Roland Martin addresses some of the same themes Barack Obama raised in a Father's Day address on Sunday.

(CNN) -- As the mug shots of the alleged killers of NFL star Sean Taylor were shown on television, I kept wondering when we were going to see their parents step forward. I saw a couple of mothers, but their dads were missing in action.

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Roland Martin credits two strong parents with raising him to do right by them.

Dads matter, and it's ridiculous for us to act as if all it takes is a loving mom.

Now, I don't know what it means not to have a father in your life. I'm not familiar with a mom being strung out on a crack binge. And when my parents were called to the school when there was a discipline problem, Mom and Dad didn't go off on the teacher or principal. In fact, I can still feel the pain of my elementary school principal's paddle being applied to my butt when I acted a fool. The principal could only pop me three times. Dad? He had no limit.

Bottom line: I can sit here today and celebrate them and enjoy a wonderful life because my parents were hell-bent on raising their children to do right by them, especially my dad.

We can spend all day talking about the ills afflicting urban America -- and there are plenty that are institutional -- but the decaying value of life in inner cities clearly can be traced to the exodus of fathers from the lives of so many young men. Excuses often are tossed about as to why black men leave their children (and their children's moms) to fend for themselves. But a lot of them are just sorry and refuse to accept the responsibility that comes with raising a child.

A lot of my colleagues will suggest it's too simplistic to assign such a high value to a dad being in the life of a child. But just take a visit to your local jail, juvenile hall or state prison. You likely will be confronted with a sea of black men -- strong, able-bodied, creative and restless -- who have spent or will spend years and years with a prison number identifying who they are.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, of all the black men in the U.S. between the ages of 25 and 29 in 2002, 10.4 percent were incarcerated. Hispanic and white men? Just 2.4 percent and 1.2 percent respectively. If a poll were done on how many grew up without fathers, I can guarantee you the numbers would be staggering.

The rampant poverty that exists has led many young blacks to a life of crime, choosing to sell drugs and involve themselves in gangs as opposed to focusing on education as a way out of the cellar of life.

But you see, when nearly 70 percent of black kids are born to unmarried parents, likely to a too-young mom, that puts tremendous pressure on grandmothers (and some grandfathers), sisters and brothers to take up the slack. But if the person who impregnated that woman were on the scene, not only helping to pay for the raising of the child but also serving as a strong influence, I just don't believe we would see such a chronic condition.

And the black men who have done their job are scared to death about what the tendency for black men to leave relationships means for their daughters.

The day before leaving for vacation, I got word that a good friend, Chicago attorney Reynaldo Glover, had died of pancreatic cancer.

He was 64.

In our last extensive conversation before he was diagnosed in July, Reynaldo pleaded with me to use my national media stage to be a voice to sound the alarm about what's happening to black men in America, because he wanted to know that his daughter would have a respectable man to marry one day. (I'm sure if she chose to marry someone who's not black, Reynaldo wouldn't mind, but he realized that as a nation, we mostly marry within our race.)

I promised Reynaldo that I would do all I can, because this has been an issue for me for many years. In fact, my mom gets angry because I'm always talking about my dad on television, radio and in my books. That's because when you see black men who have "made it," the accolades are plenty for their moms, and their dads are hardly mentioned. I just think it's critical to show daddy some love, too.

This is not an issue that black America can continue to sweep under the rug. I've heard countless folks talk about it, such as Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, who noted that his dad left his family when he was a toddler and didn't see much of him growing up. Even in the Republican CNN-YouTube debate, GOP candidate Mitt Romney said fathers are part of the answer to addressing crime in inner cities.

We shouldn't shame our young girls who get pregnant, but surely it shouldn't be seen as a blue-ribbon day. Teenage black girls and black boys should be focused on picking colleges, not the names of babies. When a young girl wants a baby christened, her pastor should be asking to meet with the father as well, even if the two don't get along. We also should be telling black women not to lie down with any fool. A moment of pleasure could lead you to a lifetime of raising that child. Alone.

A friend of mine suggested more black men need to mentor young black men. I agree. But that's a bandage. If we get black men to handle their business in the first place, no one else would have to stand in the gap.

Unless black America owns up to this problem -- and fast -- we are going to see another generation of young black men who are angry with their lot in life. And the result will be more discipline problems in school, which will lead to folks dropping out, and that is nothing but a one-way ticket to jail.

Black men, it's time to man up. Enough with the sperm donors. We need real men to stand up and accept their responsibility. The state of our boys is on us. And no one else.

Roland S. Martin is a nationally award-winning journalist and CNN contributor. Martin is studying to receive his master's degree in Christian communications at Louisiana Baptist University, and he is the author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith." You can read more of his columns at www.rolandsmartin.com.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

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