Voice: Christelyn D. Karazin

Christelyn D. Karazin is the founder and organizer of the advocacy group No Wedding No Womb!, an online initiative to address the 72 percent out-of-wedlock birthrate in the African American community.

“We’ve got a problem in the community, and every indicator that you can attribute to fatherless or broken homes, every negative thing – high dropout rates, incarceration, premature death related to violence – all those things, there’s a connection with kids being born to fractured families.”

No Wedding No Womb! really was born out of frustration in that I was looking around and, you know, every time the census came out and it was talking about a particular group of people, African Americans, and the out-of-wedlock rate is at 70 percent. So, that was baffling to me, and I don’t say that from a position of superiority: I was one of those statistics.

Christelyn Karazin

Christelyn Karazin

My first child was born out of wedlock, and she’d asked me one day, why didn’t you and my dad get married. And, you know, I knew that that question was going to be asked of me, and I’m a firm believer that kids will hold you responsible, they’ll question you. Good or bad, they’re going to hold you responsible for what you do and the decisions that you make. And I didn’t want to give her some platitude, like, well even though things didn’t work out between me and your father we love you and you were born out of love – just don’t do what we did. I didn’t want to do that because I felt like she deserved more than that and I felt like I really need to show her that I’m serious about this. I really want the next generation of young black girls to know that they are worthy of a partner. They are worthy to have fathers for their children and husbands, just like any other race of woman would expect.

If you look across the African American community, marriage rates mirror the out-of-wedlock rates – in reverse. We’ve got a problem in the community, and every indicator that you can attribute to fatherless or broken homes, every negative thing – high dropout rates, incarceration, premature death related to violence – all those things, there’s a connection with kids being born to fractured families. And I felt like for so long black people, they just shout down anybody who comes along and says, hey, this is a problem. Nobody wants to hear it.

Well, I think that we’ve had now – there were several things that happened, probably, I point to the ‘60s because it seems to me that was the culmination of a lot of things. You had the war on poverty. You had the sexual revolution. And you had the civil rights movement. All of those things were a fairly tumultuous time of extreme sea change in people. At the time when Martin Luther King did his “I Have A Dream” speech, over 70 percent of black kids were living with both their parents. Their parents were married. After – here we are, 40, 50 years later, and it’s the inverse. What I think contributed to it was one of those well-meaning things that was an unintended consequence with the war on poverty and the welfare system that was put into place – there was a clause in welfare, a recipient, in order to receive benefits, there could be no man in the house and the woman had to be unmarried. And what that did was encourage people not to marry, because especially with the decline in manufacturing, and job losses, it was more consistent for the government to be your husband than for an actual human being to be your husband, because you could count on that check. From a man’s perspective, if he can’t take care of your family and he can’t get a job, you have this amplified frustration. And, so we saw, I think, the beginnings of a lot of dysfunction that happened, because the sexual revolution said, women we’re free to control our bodies, and of course I perfectly – I totally – agree with that. But along came, you know, the women’s liberation movement and the decline in manufacturing, and all of those things sort of became like a toxic soup that affected us as a group disproportionately.

I think society doesn’t even really know how bad the problem is. I’ve seen this for myself on the ground trying to raise money for No Wedding No Womb! I will go to businesses and say did you know that 80 percent of first children born to black mothers are born out of wedlock, and their mouths drop – their jaws drop to the floor. They have no idea that it’s that high, because it’s not reported. The media don’t really report it because, like I said, I got my butt chewed out for doing what I did, for bringing awareness. People are so defensive about this. But it’s not helping us to stay defensive, and you know I’m starting to see that change. I’m starting to see people – the conversation is starting to change, so I’m hopeful about that.

For black people, it’s like you don’t air the dirty laundry. But everybody knows. The data is out there. Some people said that, oh, you’re a sellout, because you married a white man, because my husband is white. And so they use that as a cheap shot – your husband is white, and you’re not really like us. You think you’re better than us. You know, then we got resistance from oh, you’re bashing single moms. Then we get children of single moms who would say, my mother raised me and I came out just fine. And while there’s one great outcome, there’s nine not-great outcomes. So 90 percent is not you. So I’m glad that you’re the magic unicorn, but there are nine other people who I could talk to right now who aren’t going to have that same experience. And so, I just think, people – the world doesn’t revolve around you. Just because your experience was fine, does not mean that that is the norm. I find that people are very defensive. People don’t hear that they’ve made the wrong decision.

No amount of money that we throw at government programs and after school programs and all the things in the past that we thought would help – it’s going to take an attitudinal change in the community. The cue is going to have to come from the source. We have to collectively say, enough is enough, and there has to be enough of us to say enough is enough. Our leadership is going to have to grow some balls and say enough is enough, and not worry about people getting mad at them and not putting tithes in the collection plates at church. They’re just going to have to stand up for what’s right.

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