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Quick and Dirty

Marriage Minded

By Christina Royster-Hemby | Posted 2/22/2006

Newlyweds Duane and Laneisha Draft are dreaming big. Duane, 19, wants to be a computer technician someday. And his 18-year-old wife hopes to go back to school to become an obstetrician. But first, the couple, married for two months now, must deliver their baby. The two have a lot of work ahead of them, between parenting, going to school, and building a stable household.

The Drafts are bucking a disturbing trend in the African-American community. These days, 70 percent of black children born in the United States are born out of wedlock.

According to the Center for Fathers, Families, and Workforce Development, a Baltimore nonprofit organization, kids born to unmarried parents are more likely to get into trouble—crime, drug abuse, and suicide—than kids born to married parents. The center is trying to combat the statistics by training 500 unwed African-American couples, made up of people aged 18 to 35, to build healthy relationships and marriages. The center hopes the effort will benefit black children and families. The organization has also received $1 million from Congress that will be used to train 16 community and religious organizations in Maryland to teach low-income African-Americans about marriage and relationships. The training will start later this month, and according to a press release on the initiative, it will “use hip-hop culture to explore subjects such as determining whether a partner is marriage material.” According to the Center for Fathers, Families, and Workforce Development, the aim is to promote marriage in the low-income black community.

But not everyone thinks that encouraging young people to marry is always in their best interests. Paul Mulligan, director of the Gabriel Project, a faith-based pregnancy support network, says the initiative could send the wrong message about marriage and families.

“You can’t just say, ‘Let’s put a wedding ring on, and that will make everything all right,’” Mulligan says. While pro-marriage, Mulligan cautions, “we need to instill a sense of the respect for marriage in young people.”

Some couples, he says, may simply be too immature for the demands of married life.

Center for Fathers, Families, and Workforce Development President Joe Jones, however, says his organization is not forcing people to get married before they are ready—it just wants to encourage couples to see marriage as a viable option for the sake of their children.

“We’re looking at child outcomes,” Jones says. “We want to give people the tools so that they can make the kind of choices that are healthy and that will allow their families to be successful in life.”

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