National Post Barbara Kay: ‘Stopping the bleeding’ in the black community

National Post - Thursday February 13th, 2014

John Lehmann/National Post
A pastor is courageously using Black History Month to tackle the most pressing issue facing his community: Fatherless young men.

During his first presidential campaign, Barack Obama spoke publicly about fatherlessness in black communities. “[Black men] have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men,” he said, “and the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.” It was a bold and true affirmation.

It was also the last time Obama raised the controversial subject — discomfiting to blacks’ racial pride and to whites’ racial guilt — or proposed any policy initiative to address the problem.

But a serious problem it is. Intact, married families are the surest indicator for upward mobility and successful offspring, and fatherlessness the surest indicator for poverty and children’s poor outcomes. Yet blacks are the most unmarried group in North America. One in four Toronto families is headed by a single parent. But in the black community, nearly 50% of children are living with a lone parent, 80% of them mothers.

February is Black History Month, traditionally dedicated to illuminating positive responses to grim historical chapters and to continuing challenges in black communities in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. It was therefore a courageous decision on the part of Pastor Audley Castro, spiritual leader of the Apostolic Pentecostal Church of Pickering, to propose for his church’s annual event on Feb. 22, “A View of Fatherlessness in Black Communities.”

Unlike politicians, Jamaican-born Audley Castro, 49, does not look to the popularity of his opinions for guidance in confronting pressing issues. Castro has a history of dealing straightforwardly with uncomfortable local realities. When he officiates — and it is all too often — at the funerals of young men killed by gang violence, he doesn’t adduce the usual bromides of poverty and racism, influential as they may be. Rather he urges congregants to look inward, to reflect on the “monster” of the culturally-entrenched, lethal cycle of violence and revenge that (especially) stalks the ethnically Jamaican community.

Castro spoke of the old, hyper-masculinized African model of fatherhood, pointing out that Nelson Mandela’s father had four wives

I spoke last week with Audley Castro about his mission to “get back to family values.” We talked about the root causes for negative trends in his community, which always circle back to fatherlessness. Our discussion elicited interesting and (for me) original insights.

In the Carribean’s slavery years, Castro explained, the strongest black men were used as studs to produce fit offspring with many women. Consequently masculinity became associated with random sex and the creation of children who had no relationship with their father. He also spoke of the old, hyper-masculinized African model of fatherhood, pointing out that Nelson Mandela’s father had four wives.

According to Castro, those historical paradigms nurtured cultural trends that persist today, translating into heightened promiscuity amongst males, which in turn produces mothers who outwardly acquiesce to the pattern, but are inwardly filled “with shame and anger against the father.” Their resentment filters down to their children, who internalize the message that men are failures as fathers.

Ultimately, he says, it comes down to individuals taking responsibility for their behaviour,

Society’s current values are not helpful, Castro adds, pointing out something I often write about, namely custody bias in family court toward mothers, which forces fathers to be unusually pro-active if they wish to maintain a wholesome and enduring bond with their children.

Churches too come in for stern criticism. Historically bastions of traditional family values, churches are no longer pulling their spiritual weight, Castro asserts. He cites the “secularized mindset” of churches both here and in Jamaica that renders them mute on an issue that needs their full-throated, authoritative voice to jumpstart return to a Bible-rooted family model.

Ultimately, he says, it comes down to individuals taking responsibility for their behaviour, and here parents must do their part to inculcate strong values in their children. To that end, the pastor has initiated programs in his own church: one for children as young as nine, teaching them about responsible fatherhood; and another program, “love for life,” aimed at young couples. One of Castro’s strategies is to pair a young boy with an older one, a young couple with an older one, in order to encourage the kind of mentoring and personal role-modelling that can be more effective than class instruction.

We must “stop the bleeding,” says the good pastor. Amen to that.

The Feb. 22 event (4 p.m.) will be a panel discussion, notably featuring the heroic Brandon Hay, founder of the “Black Daddies Club” (the subject of a long article in the March 2012 issue of Toronto Life, “Return of the Dads,” well worth readers’ attention), and other stakeholders in this critical social predicament. It is open to the public.