Asserting that good families produce good people who produce good communities, 11 local African-American ministers and church leaders signed a covenant yesterday pledging cooperation to improve marriages and relationships among their constituents.
"We are 'mad as heaven' about what is happening to African-American families," said the Rev. Robert Culp, pastor of First Church of God.
"We may not change everything, but thank God we may change something. We want to inform and inspire people about the priority of family life," he said.
At a news conference at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church on Vance Street, Mr. Culp said it is alarming that nationwide, 70 percent of black children are born out of wedlock.
That figure is 74 percent in Ohio, said Vince Wiggins, an organizer of yesterday's event.
The pastors said their churches will host or endorse an eight-hour marriage-building seminar, called Keeping It Together, for all members of the community.
The seminars can be taught in different formats, from one hour a week over eight weeks or in one eight-hour session.
Topics are divided into eight chapters with titles such as "Why Marriage?" "Communication: Getting Your Message Understood," and "Let's Make Love: How Do You Really Make Love?"
The curriculum was designed and funded by Ohio's office of faith-based and community initiatives.
Local Keeping It Together coordinators Mike and Avis Files and Mike and Brenda Hailey said 170 couples have participated in the program during its first two years of operation in Toledo.
The coordinators said that although the project is endorsed by churches, it is not religious or Bible-based. It is open to all interested parties regardless of race, beliefs, or ethnic background and whether or not they are married, Mrs. Files said.
The black pastors who signed the covenant said they support the program because they feel a need to emphasize the importance of marriage.
"We want to change the way people look at relationships," Mr. Culp said.
Alan Bannister, project manager for Gov. Ted Strickland's office, said nonprofit agencies in five Ohio cities receive a combined $544,000 annually for five years to run the program, which will enter its fourth year tomorrow.
The Keeping It Together African-American Community Covenant cites concerns over the high rates of out-of-wedlock pregnancies, unmarried women, and divorce among blacks.
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