Open Letter on Single Parenting
to President Bush and Vice-President Quayle, May 27, 1992
Your remarks about single parents is
the last straw. For the last 10 - 15 years I have noticed an increasing tendency
to blame single parents for the problems with our youth. If there is moral
deficit in families it is not confined to those families headed by single
parents. To imply that single parents lack "family values" is ridiculous. As a
single parent, I'm outraged and more than a little insulted.
I have worked hard to provide my sons
with a stable family and I think that you should know more about the type of
family you are insulting. Let me tell you a little about my background: I became
pregnant with Tshaka (age 21) in 1970 my junior year in college. I was 22 years
old, poor and had to apply for welfare. I myself had been raised in a foster
home. If I quit school because of pregnancy I was looking at going to work as a
maid or a nurses aid. That was the best that I, an African-American without a
college degree, could hope for.
In fact, I had to lie to get welfare
because at the time Texas would not provide welfare payments to college
students. So I lied and told them I was unemployed. I am not proud of having
lied. But a welfare system which refused to encourage and reward
self-sufficiency is the worst of two evils. I can remember being advised to
either have an abortion, get married or quit school. I did none of those.
I can remember feeling like I was the
only unmarried pregnant woman on the University of Texas at Austin campus.
Perhaps, at the time, I was one of very few, since all of my friends who became
pregnant either had an abortion, got married or quit school. Nevertheless, I
persevered, had my son, took him to class with me, and graduated the next year
from the University of Texas Nursing School.
Five years later (1976) when I became
pregnant with Issa (age 14), I thought I couldn't' go through another pregnancy
alone. So I married Issa's father. That's when I learned that there are
situations worse than being a single parent. Officially, Charles and I were
married a year and a half. However, I prefer to say in my official life story
that I was never married. Since that time I have been a single parent. So, for
the past twenty-two years, I raised my boys alone. I'll hold my sons up to
children from a two parent family any day. They are independent, self-reliant,
honest, hardworkers who have respect for themselves, respect for others and
respect for GOD.
Tshaka is a junior in secondary
education at the University of Dayton. He sings in Gospel Choir, Celebration! (UD's
show choir). He works part-time as an assistant football and baseball coach at a
suburban high school.. The high school is white upper middle class. This is his
second year. He has worked with children since he was thirteen years old. He has
a 3.0 average in school and has been accepted in the Institute for Teachers, a
program for minority undergraduate students who plan to pursue their doctorate
and to teach on a secondary or college level.
[UPDATE: 2/18/06: Tshaka (right) has
a master's degree from University of Michigan, a JD/PhD at the University of Pennsylvania
and clerking for a federal court judge
02/08/11: Tshaka is a law professor at
FAMU Law school. He is married and his wife is a lawyer. He is the father of
eight month old twins: Ajani and Makai. ]
Issa is an eighth grader. He plays in
the band, plays football and baseball. He is a good student and is well liked by
both teachers and students. In fact, his teachers comment on his independence
and his maturity.
[UPDATE: 2/18/06: Issa (left) graduated from the University of Dayton,
is a fine arts photographer who has travel and worked in Asia, Africa, and
2/08/11: Issa is a practicing artist having showings
in Europe and AMerica. He is doing a residence at the 510Project in Dayton
and is scheduled to have a solo show at Dayton Visual Arts in 2012. http://www.reclamationgallery.
Even while raising these two fine
young men, I have managed to accomplish quite a bit in my career. I completed my
undergraduate degree, obtained a masters in nursing, worked 12 years as a public
health nurse, completed law school, practiced 3 years in a large defense firm
and I'm currently teaching at a law school. In addition, I was very active in
civil affairs such as Oregon Women Lawyers, the Oregon Black Lawyers and the
Thurgood Marshall Law society. But I suppose that my accomplishments and those
of my children mean nothing, since we lack "family values".
I submit that it is not the structure
of families that determine their success but whether the adult(s) in the family
have a good education, make a decent income, have good emotional/social support
for themselves and their children and have good parenting skills. Being a single
parent is not the problem, it's the lack of these ingredients that is the
Teenage pregnancy is a problem
precisely because the pregnancy interrupts the girl's education and thus her
opportunity to make a decent income. Welfare does not provide a decent income,
neither does minimum wages. At best they provide only a subsistence living. In a
country with such an abundance of wealth its incredible that we give many of our
youth nothing more to look forward to than a third class education and a
If you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Quayle, want
to strengthen families then you should support funding programs to prevent
teenage pregnancies. You should support adequate funding for education so
that every child in this country gets an education which is second to none. You
should support programs that assure a job for every adult at an income which
provides more than a subsistence lifestyle. You should support the funding of
programs that provide for quality, inexpensive child care. You should support
the revision of the tax code to allow unlimited deductions for child care
through the age sixteen.. Over the last twenty-one years I've seen a tax code
which was never very supportive of families, become more restrictive on child
care, limiting deductions to children under thirteen. Speaking of family values,
why does the tax code allow almost unlimited deductions for business lunches,
but restricts child care expenses to $2400 per year per child?
Besides a decent income, many single
parents lack the emotional and social support system necessary for
child-rearing. Our transient society has weakened the infrastructure of many
families. They do not have the aunts, uncles, mother and father around to
provide support. If they are around, they themselves are struggling emotionally
to survive and have little extra strength to support someone else. Many
communities have not fully developed alternative support systems through their
churches or through programs like Big Brothers/Big Sisters. I was fortunate to
have available in my life the support systems necessary. Especially important
were the male role models that were available through my church, through male
teachers in elementary and secondary schools, and through community support
programs. I agree that having male role models and confidants for children is
very important. However, there is nothing that says that the person has to be
sleeping in the mother's bed.
If you want to strengthen the family
I suggest, Mr. Bush and Mr. Quayle, that you support the development and funding
of programs that can provide alternative infrastructure for families. I suggest
that you use whatever measures necessary to break the cycle of crime and
violence in communities. I suggest that you support increased wages for teachers
which would encourage the best and the brightest to return to elementary and
secondary education and provide role models for children.
Finally, good parenting skills are
important to successful child-rearing. In a one-parent family, good parenting
skills become essential. Unfortunately, many adults come from dysfunctional
homes where they failed to learn good parenting skills. Since the schools do not
train our children to be parents, these adults become dysfunctional parents
themselves. Mr. Bush and Mr. Quayle, if the two of you want to promote family
values then I suggest that you promote the funding of parenting classes for
every ninth grade student in America. Parenting 101 should be required along
with math, English and Spanish. I suggest increased funding to social services
and family support services to help break the cycle of child abuse. When a child
comes from a home where the parent(s) have a good education and a decent income,
good emotional/social support and good parenting skills, it does not matter
whether the home has one or two parents. On the other hand, if parents don't
have a good education and a decent income, good emotional/social support and
good parenting skills, then the family is likely to be dysfunctional no matter
how many adults live in the house.
I have enclosed a picture of my sons.
I hope that after looking at them perhaps you will rethink your ideas about
"single parenting" and family values.. They are not mutually exclusive.
By the way, Mr. Quayle, if you take a good look at the pictures, you won't find
them marked with illegitimacy.
There are thousands of single parent
families which demonstrate the same solid moral values which exist in my family
and I think that you owe us an apology. Instead of criticizing those of us who
chose to give birth to our children rather than to abort them, you should
applaud the outstanding jobs that we are doing.