Christian Living

Have We Overcome?

Jeremy Williams

In the wake of the of the Trayvon Martin verdict, much light has shone on the African-American community and its ongoing problems of poverty, fatherless homes and failing systems. We’ve come a long way from Jim Crow and cotton fields. But we would be remiss to think there were no issues plaguing African-American society. 


In his article, “Poverty and Race,” William Julius Wilson suggests that poverty in the black community is a generational problem rather than a fault from the Caucasian community:

 Sociologist Patrick Sharkey of New York University found that more than 70% of black children who are raised in the poorest quarter of American neighborhoods, the bottom 25% in terms of average neighborhood income, will continue to live in the poorest quarter of neighborhoods as adults… compared to only 7% of white families.

He says that not only is poverty inherited, but that it also affects young African-American’s verbal ability. Wilson references a study by Robert Sampson, a Harvard sociologist, who researched 750 African-American children from the ages of six through twelve in the Chicago area (1995). Sampson says, “Residing in a severely disadvantaged neighborhood cumulatively impedes the development of academically relevant verbal ability in children.”

His research is concerning given the U.S. Census Bureau recording that 25.8% of African-American’s live in poverty. This means slightly over a quarter of this population is born at a disadvantage. That makes it difficult to advance in a society that values socio economic status as well as the degree(s) that you have. 


Fatherlessness and single mother homes are another lingering issue in the African-American community. I know this personally. My experience led to anger issues, rejection issues and identity crisis. I was left continually searching for significance and guidance, but found none.

 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 50.4% of all African-American children live in a single mother home (2009). [pullquote]When absent, the father can’t fulfill his role of providing security, guidance and significance to his children.[/pullquote] And that is a problem. He should teach his sons how to become a men and how to positively contribute to society. And he should model how to be a man to his daughters so that someday they can filter out potential husbands.

[pullquote position=”right”]Fortunately my mother knew she couldn’t raise a man alone. So she intentionally surrounded me with godly men who gave me direction and significance.[/pullquote] Sadly, most mothers believe that they have to be both mom and dad. This can result in children finding their significance and identity in pop culture rather than a stable home. 

Why is this a problem?

Sex, drugs, violence and money are glorified in black pop culture. This is dangerous because it’s hard for young black church-going children to reconcile the gospel and statements like “Jesus can’t save you, life starts when the church ends” from Jay-Z. Every child who listens to popular hip-hop hears the glorification and justification of selling drugs and being promiscuous. Without a father to guide them, they believe culture’s lies and further perpetuate the stereotypes and issues plaguing the African-American society. 

 Society’s Response

Society’s response to poverty and fatherlessness in the African-American community has been met with bureaucracy and systems that have not, in my opinion, helped this community advance like other races have.

[pullquote]Public aid and welfare, although helpful, seem to trap African-Americans into a certain socio economic status for generations.[/pullquote] I’ve seen this firsthand. Mothers continue having babies since it promises more government aid. Some forgo higher education since it means working instead of relying on government assistance.

This is extremely sad. Although it seems our government was sincere in their actions, it’s not helpful. Rather than advancing the community, the system continues to enslave.

In some aspects, society has done a great job. For example, Big Brother Big Sister, the Boys and Girls Club of America and the YMCA provide children with positive adult role models to look up to. 

 The Churches Response

Many churches, both black and white, have responded to this poverty and fatherlessness. One way is through back-to-school drives where churches provide low-income families with a backpack full of school supplies. There are benevolence systems to help families pay bills, turn the lights back on or get the car fixed. And many churches have mentoring programs where adults serve as role models for young inner-city kids.

 But the best response, I believe, that the church can have is to plant more multiethnic, multi-socio economic and multi generational churches. In doing this you not only connect African-Americans with resources by virtue of being around different ethnic groups with cultural influence, but you also make others aware of the problems that the African-American community is faced with on a daily basis. And because authentic relationships will be forged, my hope is that others would generally care about the issues and be a part of the solution for future generations. 

 Structural Functional Theory

Max Weber and Emile Durkheim, two major pioneers in sociology, had an interesting theory that can be one cause to the issues seen in the African-American community. They called it the structural functional theory. According to Introduction to Sociology, these men believed that there were five major structures in every society: family, religion, education, economy and government. And the society’s success hinged on the ability of these structures working properly. If there were a breakdown of the structure, it would eventually lead to a societal breakdown.

 There has been, I believe, a breakdown of structures within the African-American community. I spoke about fatherlessness, which is the breakdown of the family. I also spoke about poverty, a result of a lack of resources whether education, money or proper government assistance.

And it is interesting that they include religion. Many churches in the African-American community adhere to a prosperity gospel – a gospel that over promises and under delivers and one that doesn’t address issues through the lenses of a Christian worldview. It promises a reward of monetary prosperity for giving money to the church. The major problem with this is that they do not give its members the only solution to poverty, fatherlessness, violence or any other issue that plagues the African-American community. That is finding your worth, your identity, and your security in the person of Jesus Christ. 


Poverty and fatherlessness are not the only issues making it difficult for those in the African-American community to advance or overcome obstacles. These are two I experienced, but there are many others. But even the black child – with the setbacks and disadvantages of being raised without a father or in poverty – can (with the right push) achieve anything.

Regardless of your ethnic background, are you willing to lock arms with communities in need and provide them with resources, leadership, and hope?

Wilson, W. (2009). Poverty & Race. Research Action Council, 18(3), 13. Retrieved from

McCartney, S., Bishaw, A., & Fontenot, K. United States Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration. (2013). Poverty rates for selected detailed race and hispanic groups by state and place: 2007–2011 (ACSBR/11-17). Retrieved from US Census Bureau website:

Basirico, L. A., Cashion, B. G., & Eshleman, J. R. (2012). Introduction to Sociology. (5 ed., p. 38). Redding, CA: BVT Publishing.

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