Albert Earl knows the one thing his 9-year-old son needs more than an Xbox, PlayStation, or the latest pair of basketball shoes is his attention.
Jordan Earl, who is autistic, often spends time with his father, a prevention specialist at the Urban Minority Alcoholism Drug Abuse Outreach Program of Lucas County, doing homework and on the Internet. Mr. Earl said it is the best thing he does all day.
The abuse outreach program and the Governor's Office on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives will sponsor an African-American Fatherhood Symposium at 8:30 a.m. Saturday at Friendship Baptist Church, 5301 Nebraska Ave.
The symposium, which will include a free lunch, is designed to address the high absentee father rate in African-American homes.
"I think the issue is extremely important," Mr. Earl said. "My son has autism, but I still take him to throw the football and play basketball and to have a normal life. My role is important because he needs that balance and a positive male role model in his life."
The statistics on children growing up in fatherless homes have been well documented - and are stark.
According to the latest U.S. Census figures, 56 percent of African-American homes are single-parent, and the vast majority of those are led by women.
About 70 percent of high school dropouts come from fatherless homes - nine times the national average, according to a report by the National Principals Association.
About 70 percent of youths in state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes, according to another study by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 85 percent of all children who show behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes - 20 times the national average.
Cassandra Davis, the abuse outreach's coordinator of the health marriages/healthy relationships program, said statistics like those reinforce the need for Saturday's symposium and for more urgent action.
"When we look at the plight of the African-American family and the role of the African-American male in the family these days, we see it as a serious issue," Ms. Davis said.
"I think it's something we need to come together as a community and talk about. My hope is once we get together and talk about this, people will start to take a look at the state of African-American families and what it is we can do as a people to pull them together," she said.
Constance Dallas, an associate professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago, said she agrees with the impact the absence of fathers has had on African-American families.
Ms. Dallas, who works in the university's department of public health, mental health, and administrative nursing, said the problem develops when people look at a black male singularly instead of at his place in society as a whole.
She said that prevents agencies and organizations from properly diagnosing challenges for African-American males and solving the problems they face.
"It's not a matter of black men willfully disregarding their children," Ms. Dallas said. "They are operating in an environment where 50 percent of African-American men don't finish high school. In this society, fathers have been given the provider role. So, you have men who are already hampered in the roles we want them to fulfill."
She said that African-American males would be better served in programs that look at the entire family structure.
She said some African-American women, who grew up without a father, don't know what to expect from men because they didn't grow up with that role model and may have skewed expectations of their mate.
"You can't look at individuals in isolation," Ms. Dallas said. "You have to look at them within the family context. If you look at the idea that young men may be hampered in fathering if he grew up in a house without a father, you also have to look at the expectations of the female they are to meet.
"Those expectations are also shaped by the female's role in a household without fathers. Women don't have fathering experiences to help shape their expectations.
"When we have [the] policy and interventions that we have, they are aimed at the young men and not the family - without taking into account the person whose expectations they are expecting to meet ," Ms. Dallas said.
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