Fortifying America’s Families- The First Step in Building Communities of Excellence

SpencerCahoonPhotoBy Kruse Scholar Spencer Cahoon

One of the most valuable things I have learned as a Kruse Scholar for Communities of Excellence is to think about the root causes of issues in our communities. As we have seen in recent weeks, it is easy to blame our country’s tenuous position on the actions of political leaders, a troubling economy, and daunting world conflicts. These certainly can be contributing factors to the discord, fear, and disparities that our country is striving to overcome, yet, if we were to metaphorically swim upstream, are they truly the root cause?

Former First Lady Barbara P. Bush once said, “Your success as a family, our success as a society, depends not on what happens in the White House, but on what happens in your house.” To me, this quote speaks to the heart of our community issues. The root cause comes down to the stability and support of the families in our nation. The family is where children learn to say please and thank you, to always tell the truth, to practice tolerance, and to be confident in themselves. How do they learn this? From watching and modeling after their parents. And yet we are seeing the deterioration of families in our nation and the very real consequences that follow.

For example, approximately two-fifths of U.S. children experience dissolution in their parents’ union by the age of 15. In the case of non-marital births, estimates say that 56 percent of fathers will be living away from their child by his or her third birthday. Research shows that these patterns have a negative impact on children, specifically with regard to their well-being and school success. (Egalite, 2016).

So where does Communities of Excellence fit in? As part of the Community Excellence Builder, community members will come together to answer the question: “What are your community’s key characteristics?” A critical part of this process will be to prioritize building strong families as part of the community’s identity and mission. This will lay the foundation for creating a strategy that strengthens marriages, improves parent/child engagement, and empowers fathers and mothers.

Many communities in Colorado show what this can look like as they provide programs that help fathers be more involved in their children’s lives. For example, Colorado’s Promoting Responsible Fatherhood Initiative provides funding to faith and community-based organizations that provide father-specific training, such as parenting skills and healthy marriage/couples relationship training. Other programs like Empowering Dads and Be a Man! provide coaching on healthy communication and relationships, and these programs pair fathers with other dads who serve as advisors and role models (Lowenbach, 2015). These kinds of community initiatives can bolster families, increasing the likelihood that positive behavior is learned and modeled by children, and that the upcoming generations become upstanding contributors to their community.

Societies that focus on strengthening families will reap long-lasting benefits, including the stability and prosperity of becoming a community of excellence. Although there are many problems that demand our attention, I believe the words of President David O. McKay, former president of the LDS faith, when he said, “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.” When we consider what it will take to regain peace and prosperity in the United States and to transform our communities into communities of excellence, may we begin by fortifying the basic building block of our nation- the family.

References:

Egalite, A. J. (2016). How Family Background Influences Student Achievement. Education Next. Spring 2016. Vol. 16, No. 2

Lowenbach, J. R. (2015). Colorado Taking Steps to Empower Fathers. Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children. Retrieved from: http://www.casaforchildren.org/site/pp.aspx?c=mtJSJ7MPIsE&b=5545445&printmode=1

Read more about Spencer Cahoon here

One thought on “Fortifying America’s Families- The First Step in Building Communities of Excellence

  1. Autumn Chmielewski

    Spencer – Thank you for the time and thought you put into writing this blog. I think we can all agree that children should be raised in loving, supportive, and stable households. Those households can take many different forms and we should be equally supportive of them regardless of whether it’s mom and dad, grandma and grandpa, two moms or some other family structure that is in place.

    It would be absolutely shameful to bring up this topic and not discuss the larger, underlying, systematic issues that have led to the dissolution of the core family structure. Institutional biases and systems failures have adversely impacted minority and marginalized families for generations. Economic systems that perpetuate cycles of poverty are a real problem. Employer discrimination didn’t stop with the passage of the Civil Rights act and the creation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The “war on drugs” was a war on black men. Research clearly shows that black men routinely face harsher sentences for minor drug infractions than do their white counterparts. It also shows that white applicants with criminal records are more likely to get job interviews than black applicants WITHOUT criminal records.

    The concentration of poverty in urban areas and the gerrymandering to limit the voices of the people who live there are not by accident. They are by design. These are all systems failures. These are systems that were designed with both intentional and unconscious biases and have served to disproportionately harm the very same minority and marginalized populations that are most affected by the negative outcomes of broken homes that you cite above. These systems failures directly contribute to and perpetuate the problem hindering meaningful progress for these communities.

    While the dissolution of the family structure is a problem, it is as simplistic and incomplete view of what is really happening. The opportunity for Communities of Excellence is much larger than promoting family values. It is an opportunity to acknowledge the system biases that are in place and to create a real systems change solution that promotes true equity for everyone in our shared community. Centuries of injustice cannot be undone by promoting family values. That feels like blaming the victim and no one should be okay with that. Let’s start by broadening our perspectives and understanding of what’s really happening in our communities and then willingly relinquish some of our power and privilege to make sure those most affected by these systems have an authentic voice in this conversation.

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