Alva James-Johnson: Education, marriage and children

ajjohnson@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 27, 2014 

Alva James-Johnson

Marriage isn't for everyone. I get that. But why is it being scorned?

The issue first surfaced in February at a Breaking the Cycle of Poverty forum organized by the Mayor's Commission on Unity, Diversity and Prosperity.

Attendees were given three steps to avoid poverty: Graduating from high school, getting married and then having a child after 21. The "Success Sequence," as it's called, is based on statistics that show only 8 percent of people who live life in that order end up in poverty, according to a WTVM report. And only 7.5 percent of two-parent households are impoverished, compared to nearly 34 percent of single-mother homes.

Right from the Start, a local pro-marriage organization, has posted the sequence on billboards in the community. And it's getting attention.

But when marriage was mentioned as one of the steps, some who attended the February forum shook their heads and scoffed at such a notion.

"I think it's reckless to recommend that someone get married to remove themselves from poverty," said Tremaine "Teddy" Reese, program director for Georgia Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, an organization that focuses on systemic changes to laws and policies that unfairly impact children, the poor and marginalized citizens. "It will lead to more divorce, separation and disjointedness in our community. We need some stability."

Last week, when a video of the forum was played at a diversity conference at Columbus State University, many in the audience had the same response. Some were offended by the idea that a woman should be married to avoid poverty.

I can see their point. A single woman should be able to earn a living wage to support her family. And marriage won't cure all societal ills. With 2.4 million Americans getting divorced annually, marriage, in many cases, has become the problem rather than the solution.

But it's also true that children tend to do better in two-parent households that consist of a mother and a father, and good marriages are the foundation of society. It's not marriage that's the problem, but the quality of marriages that needs to be addressed.

Last weekend, some local marriage advocates held the fourth annual Black Marriage Day in Columbus to highlight the benefits of marriage.

Lyndon Burch, the event organizer, said he's concerned that 70 percent of black children are born out of wedlock, leading to high rates of generational poverty, school disciplinary issues and incarceration. He thinks marriage can help.

Well, as a mother of two black, teenage daughters, I can tell you where I stand. Ever since our children were born, my husband and I have stressed the importance of first getting a college degree then getting married and having children -- in that order. And we didn't need experts to tell us that's a path to success. We developed the philosophy based on our personal experiences and what we've seen in the world around us.

Last weekend, my daughters and I attended a Christian youth retreat that stressed such traditional values, and we had an awesome time.

The annual event, called Pure Reality, draws hundreds of black youths each year and warns them about the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancies and other risks associated with a promiscuous lifestyle. Presenters also encouraged participants to make wise decisions and begin now to lay the foundation for their futures.

Call me a prude or old-fashioned, but it sounds like good advice to me.

I want my daughters to have the best lives possible. If they decide not to marry, that's fine. But if they do, I hope it will be with the right person, under the right circumstances, with no regrets. And I certainly hope they wait until marriage before having children.

Tying the knot may not be for everyone.

But it's a sacred institution worth preserving, both for today and future generations.

Alva James-Johnson, reporter, ajjohnson@ledger-enquirer.com.

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