Pitt seminar focuses on strengthening minority families

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President Barack Obama once stated, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” The University of Pittsburgh’s School of Social Work and the Center on Race and Social Problems takes that challenge to heart, determined to make a positive transition in the world of diversity that will impact the world as we know it.

The university played host to a “Race in America—Restructuring Inequality National Conference” from June 3-6. The presentations were designed to be the most solution-focused conference on race ever held.

One of the many topics— “Family Matters: Strengthening the Fabric of Minority Families”—was presented by Ruth McRoy, Ph.D., Donahue & DiFelice, professor, School of Social Work at Boston College and Oliver Williams, Ph.D., professor and director at the Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community at the University of Minnesota.

The duo discussed the challenges of minority families in regard to education, single-parent households and domestic abuse. The disheartening statistics were presented with positive strategies geared toward lessening the critical disparities.

McRoy discussed the dropout rate for minorities and the country’s overall unemployment rate, emphasizing the fact that poorly-educated African-American males are becoming more disconnected. “These factors,” she stated, “provides the link between custodial and non-custodial families. More and more children are being removed from the home and placed in foster care.” The highest number of minority families within this realm are Hispanic and African-American families.” Discouraged by society’s lack of care in this disturbing trend, it was determined that more and more children are “aging out” of the system. Those who, unfortunately, are never adopted but remain in the system until they become “of age,” are less likely to have a high school diploma, pursue a higher education, experience economic hardship, have a child(ren) without marriage and become involved with the criminal justice system.

An expert in her field, McRoy stressed the need to address poverty, inadequate housing and parental substance abuse. She is emphatic when she states that “ministers need to talk about these issues in their churches and their communities.”

A solution encompasses “early intervention, support for the parent(s) and children, an innovative education program, economic policies to create more jobs that pay and offer a way out of poverty, community-based family service agencies and a self-help effort. “Vision,” she stated, “is seeing the opportunity within the challenge. The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time.”

Williams questioned the attendees as to the solution of addressing the different matters families face. His expertise takes family violence on a road to family healing.

With African-Americans and Native-Americans listed as having the highest rate of domestic violence, Williams emphasized that there must be a “yearning for healing,” which is the first step toward a productive and violence-free life. He continued by encouraging the audience to address the issues that promote healing. “We must,” he said, “change the thought process that violence is not the solution.”

Williams is adamant that by creating an environment where real conversations and epiphanies occur, “we can move from unhealthy to healthy.” While there are multiple compelling challenges for the African-American community, more access points and opportunities for learning must be created. Holistic ways, he suggested, must be a route for the issues that plague African-American men. These include manhood, displaced anger, a poor definition of respect and poor problem-solving skills. “As a caring society, we must understand multiple issues that fragile families and communities face, realizing the impact of violence on kids. To begin,” he states, “we must heal our community from the inside out.”

Following the informative session, the discussion led to a question and answer segment that proved to be a most profound and innovative interaction in which possible solutions were critiqued and expanded upon. The conference challenged everyone to vow to make a committed effort to change the current status of minority families by serving in roles as mentors and/or partnering with family support groups. Both professors agreed that society is facing issues in which everyone needs to, not only step up to the plate…but more importantly, everyone needs to listen.”

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