Activists Unite For 'No Wedding, No Womb'

The out-of-wedlock birth rate for African-Americans at 72 percent is the highest of any race and ethnic group in the U.S. In response "100 bloggers" will join forces for "No Wedding, No Womb," to force a dialogue in the black community about why this is happening and how we turn the corner on solutions. Host Michel Martin speaks with Christelyn Karazin, founder of the No Wedding No Womb movement, and Hampton University's chair of psychology Linda Malone-Colon.

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MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, a panel of women writers and bloggers will join me to talk about some of the hot-button issues in politics and culture. It's our Beauty Shop, and it's later in the program.

But we will start with one of those hot-button issues that surfaces as a matter of public discussion from time to time. We are talking about the phenomenon of having babies out of wedlock, specifically African-American women having babies out of wedlock.

It's being called a crisis because most black children, in fact 72 percent, are now born to single mothers. Well, one group has organized a protest today to trumpet enough is enough. But unlike most public protests, this one will not play out in the nation's capital or on the National Mall. Rather, it is occurring in the blogosphere.

Today, 100 bloggers are conducting what they call a virtual protest to decry the large numbers of out-of-wedlock births in the black community.

We wanted to know more. So we've called blogger and social activist Christelyn Karazin. She is the founder of today's protest. It's called No Wedding, No Womb. Also with us is Linda Malone-Colon, chair of the Psychology Department at Hampton University. She's also the founder of a new National Center on African- American Marriages and Parenting. And I welcome you both. Thank you for joining us.

CHRISTELYN KARAZIN: Thanks for having us.

LINDA MALONE: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Chris, what gave you this idea?

KARAZIN: Well, first and foremost, my 12-year-old daughter. I am a baby momma. I had a daughter out of wedlock while I was in college at Loyola Marymount University. And the fact of the matter is she does have a nice life. Let me just say that from the beginning. But there is part of her that suffers because she's not living in the same household as her father, and that's a boo- boo that I'm not going to be able to fix because I am part of inflicting that pain.

I also blogged about it, No Wedding, No Womb, a couple months ago, and it received quite a bit of positive response. And, you know, in conjunction with my husband's encouragement and just my own desire and seeing what was going on, I just felt that it was time. It was time that we say enough is enough.

MARTIN: Can I ask you, since you were kind enough to share that and to open the door to your personal story, and I appreciate you for doing that, at the time you decided to have your daughter, did you not think about the consequences of having a child outside of marriage? What was your state of mind?

KARAZIN: You know, I'm from a two-parent household. I was raised in a middle-income family. My parents were married for 45 years. My father passed away one day after his 45th wedding anniversary.

So when I found myself pregnant, I was about 24 years old and had been seeing someone who was college-educated, had never been to jail, didn't have any babies out of wedlock, was active in the church. So he, on paper, looked very good.

And I thought that because we had been discussing it, it would just be a natural thing. And it turns out that that was not the case. He said that just because you're having my baby doesn't mean I have to marry you. And there's a good reason for that, his father never married his mother, and he has a half- brother who's nine months younger than him from someone else. So marriage was extraneous to him, whereas it was very important to me.

MARTIN: Professor Malone-Colon, this is a good time to bring you in. What are some of the reasons that you've discovered that the marriage rate among African-Americans is as low as it is? And one of the things that you pointed out to us in our previous conversations is that until the early '60s, African- Americans had a higher marriage rate than the rest of the population.

I mean, one of the things, I believe that formerly enslaved Americans rushed to get married. But that has completely changed. And I want to ask, what is your analysis of why that is?

MALONE: Well, my analysis, there are a whole lot of reasons why that is. But I think one of the primary areas has to do with major shifts in cultural values.

We've become, as a society, much more individualistic. And so we're less likely to think in terms of what's best for our children and what's best for our family and what's best for our community and think more in terms of what's best for me. And we go into relationships like that, thinking in terms of what's best for me. So I think that's one of the major things.

MARTIN: Okay, but presumably, that's not just black people don't think - if that's a cultural issue, then presumably that's a cultural issue that's broadly shared...

MALONE: Well, clearly, that's exactly what I'm saying. I'm not saying it's just black people. I'm saying that all people think that way, but that's affecting black people, as well.

So this is something, when the entire population is affected by something, black people tend to be affected even more because of the situations that we find ourselves in, socioeconomically, educationally and so forth so that we are affected more.

And the fact that we do have these lower rates of children being born in married-parent homes is sort of like self-perpetuating. It perpetuates itself in the black community so that it happens even more.

I think in the black community, too, we have gotten away from core cultural values that were so much a part of the African-American cultural experience, this kind of collectivism and communalism that was true of the African-American experience.

A lot of that we've lost, spiritualism, our belief in God and connection to God, our extended families that we had before and the way that we use these families to support one another, our relationships with people outside of our families that we had family-like relationships and connected with. So there are some core cultural values that we have been acculturated out of.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're telling you about an online protest, a virtual protest that's being called, going on today. It's called No Wedding, No Womb. It's been organized by blogger and activist Christelyn Karazin. Also with us, Linda Malone-Colon, chair of the Psychology Department at Hampton University and founder of the National Center on African-American Marriages and Parenting. And the protest is designed to call attention to the high rate of out-of-wedlock birth in the black community.

Chris, you said something interesting about the, first, the father of your oldest child, that he wasn't raised within marriage. So he really had no context for it. Do you mind if I ask, has he subsequently married?

KARAZIN: No. He has never married.

MARTIN: And from your peer group, I mean, we've - you know, it's interesting that there's a lot of pop culture discussions around marriage, at least recently. I mean, there was a book we talked about on this program. I can't say the full title, but you can fill in the blank. It's called "B is the New Black" by Helena Andrews. And there's another book by an author who's a regular contributor to this program, Jimi Izrael, called "The Denzel Principle."

You know, there have been a number of sort of pop-culture discussions around this issue of relationships within the African-American community. So, Chris, if I could just ask you, I know you're not an expert, but you're blogging on this, and you've organized this today. What's your take on what's going on here?

KARAZIN: I would say again, like the professor, that there are a host of reasons why it's happening. And that's the reason why I got people together from various backgrounds - conservative, liberal, Republican, Democrat, Christian, Muslim, Jewish - together because I cannot as one person go through all of the reasons why we're here.

But I will say I don't care why we're here. I don't care how we got here. All I care is that we need to do something.

MARTIN: Can I ask Chris, though, what if the consequence of this, forgive me, it's a sensitive question, but I feel like I have to ask. What if a consequence of this is that there are fewer black children being born period or that, for example, perhaps if people choose abortion who otherwise would have children as a consequence of changing their thinking about this? How would you feel about that?

KARAZIN: Well, I would say that then they've completely misunderstood the message because we are really advocating to think about the choices that you make before you turn off the lights, before you listen to someone who says I want to have a baby because I want to see what our kids are going to look like, or you're going to have a baby from someone who has three other children by three different women because you want to be the special one, you want to be the one who has his daughter or you want to be the one to have his son.

We're trying to be proactive, and we are totally not advocating abortion. But we are advocating the use of what's available in terms of birth control. I don't think that people are going to all of a sudden stop having sex.

With people delaying marriage so long, I just don't think that it's reasonable. I think that people are going to continue to have sex, but I think that we really need to think about the consequences for our kids.

MARTIN: Professor Malone-Colon, a final thought from you, if I would. This obviously is an issue of passionate concern for you. It's a long-standing issue, going back decades. Do you see any sign that your point of view is taking hold? Do you know what I mean? Do you think it's changing?

MALONE: Well, I'm seeing increasing numbers of African-Americans who've become so passionate about this issue that we're organizing ourselves. We're coming together for conferences and for meetings around this. I'm seeing that young people and college-age students really care about this issue because they've been the victims of what has happened in our families.

So, and I see, you know, within the African-American experience the fact that we are people who are so resilient. We're able to make a way out of no way, that we can in fact provide some leadership, though we're having the most difficulty. I think we're the ones who are going to lead this country out of this decline that we see in our families, that's happening in all families.

MARTIN: And finally, before I let you go, if you don't mind my asking, and again, I know this is a question you've heard previously, but I think it is fair to ask for those who have not been aware of these kinds of conversations going on. What if the consequence of this movement is to stigmatize children who are born out of wedlock?

I mean, for example, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, the civil rights activist and former presidential candidate, has talked very publicly and movingly about his mother being shamed because she had him out of wedlock. What if the consequence is that? Do you think, is that okay?

MALONE: That's not okay. And I think that's why we have to be very careful in how we talk about this issue. I have a granddaughter who's being raised by my son, who's a single dad. And she's a beautiful little girl, and she has all the potential in the world.

But what I would want most for her, I would not want to stigmatize her, and I would want to encourage her and to know that she can do and be whatever she wants to do and be. But at the same time, the reality is it would have been best if her, my son and her mother could have found their way to loving one another and raising her in the same home because she's at risk in some significant ways because she is.

And so I think that there are ways that we can talk about this. That we can honor single moms, and we can honor single dads at the same time that we say marriage matters.

MARTIN: That is Professor Linda Malone-Colon. She's chair of the Psychology Department at Hampton University. She's founder of a new National Center of African-American Marriages and Parenting. She joined us from the studios at Hampton. And also with us, Christelyn Karazin. She is founder and leading a virtual protest today. It's called No Wedding, No Womb. It's playing out over the blogosphere today, and she joined us from her home office in Temecula, California. Ladies, I thank you both so much for speaking with us.

KARAZIN: Thank you.

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