Breaking the ‘cradle to prison pipeline’

Churches are key to rebuilding black communities, NBPC convention told

June 30, 2011

A man speaking at a lectern.

John W. Garland addresses the National Black Presbyterian Caucus annual convention. —Photo by Jerry Van Marter

Indianapolis

African-American Presbyterians must help create a “mass movement” to overcome what Marian Wright Edelman calls the “cradle to prison pipeline” that has decimated black communities in America, a leading educator told the National  Black Presbyterian Caucus (NBPC) today (June 30) at its 41st annual convention here.

“Martin Luther King asked us to create a mass movement to patronize and teach and trust and love one another,” said John W. Garland, president of Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio. “We hold our future in our hands and it’s our sacred duty to pass the torch, to eliminate poverty and injustice and war…”

In his address ― “The State of the Black Family: How can WE make things better?” ― Garland outlined several causes for the disintegration of the black family in America:

  • the legacy of slavery and segregation;
  • economic and social fallout from the decline of family farming, which spawned rural unemployment and drove blacks to cities seeking industrial jobs, and then the loss of those factory jobs as companies moved manufacturing overseas;
  • the entry of millions of women into the work force during and after World War II, which also reduced employment opportunities for blacks;
  • and the social and economic impact of repeated wars, from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan.

By far the most devastating factor in the decline of black family life has been the so-called “War on Drugs,” Garland said, which he called “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Since Richard Nixon’s presidency, he added, “the so called ‘War on Drugs’ is essentially a war on poor people, primarily from black and brown communities … producing mass incarceration and painting the face of crime with a black or brown face.”

This despite the fact that statistics show that white Americans deal and consume more drugs than blacks. The U.S. holds just 5 percent of the world’s population but houses 25 percent of the world’s prison inmates, and blacks are 13 times more likely to be imprisoned on drug charges than whites. “We’ve been bamboozled,” Garland charged.

Especially in black communities, where the percentage of single-parent families far outpaces other racial groups, “it takes a village” to overcome the overwhelming odds faced by young black men, Garland said.

“Young boys need role models,” he said. “Make sure they have access to you, make sure you’re mentoring our young people.”

Support local schools and get involved, Garland added. “There IS a correlation between higher education and escaping the cycles of poverty and crime.”

And churches must develop ministries to ex-prisoners, he insisted. “We must get involved in serving our at-risk populations ― people who have been incarcerated are coming back to our communities,” he said. “We have to develop re-entry ministries for those who are bitter, angry, undereducated ― the whole system is a cyclical trap and we must help them out of it.” 

  1. I am a lifelong African-American Presbyterian. My home church is Freedom Presbyterian Church and it was established in November 1864 in Statesville, NC. At the time Freedom was established, it was part of the Confederate States of America. I am interested in attending your next annual convention. Please send me the essential information. I am also a former Assistant District Attorney (Milwaukee County, WI); a former Assistant United States Attorney (Eastern District of WI); and, a former Trial Attorney with the US Department of Justice, Criminal Division (Washington, DC). I have had a substantial participation in the cradle to prison pipeline. I am sicken with that reality and would love to participate in the reversal of that horrific trend. We have more African-American young men in prison than college. With that trend, we are clearly moving in the wrong direction. There are things we can and must do. Would love to assist. Thank you.

    by James Wm. Morrison, Esquire

    April 22, 2012

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