Researchers at Harvard University and the University of California-Berkeley teamed up several years ago for a massive intergenerational study of socioeconomic mobility in the United States. The final report, published in 2014, evaluated outcomes for more than 40 million children. After examining reams of data and evaluating scores of demographical variables, the researchers determined that the greatest barrier to upward mobility in the United States wasn’t income inequality, the quality of local schools or even racial and economic segregation.
Rather, it was whether or not a child grew up with a father in their home.
“Across all the specifications, the strongest and most robust predictor is the fraction of children with single-parents,” the authors of the study concluded. “Interestingly, we find no correlation between racial shares and upward mobility once we control for the fraction of single-parents in an area.”
Nor is it the only major study to highlight the significance of family structure on a child’s likelihood of success. That same year, The Brookings Institution published a report resolutely declaring “children born into a continuously married family have much better economic mobility than those in single-parent homes.” Meanwhile, the University of Texas’ sprawling New Family Structures Study determined that children who grew up in single-parent families posted worse outcomes across the board compared to their cohorts who grew up in two-parent households, running the gamut from educational attainment to unemployment numbers to arrest rates to likelihood of experiencing severe depression.
But none of that is news to The Rev. Isaiah Robertson, senior pastor of Cartersville’s Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church.
“As clergy, I have seen it, where a young man will have a mother in the home — and she’s great and she’s wonderful — but oftentimes she’s working and he’s kind of left to his own devices,” he said. “I’ve seen instances where young men with too much time on their hands and too much freedom end up doing something that they later regret. Had some of that energy been channeled in a positive direction, they wouldn’t have walked down that route.”
Which is one of the reasons why Robertson looks to launch a new youth mentoring program in the community, which he calls the “Not Forgotten” campaign.
“The reason why it’s called the ‘Not Forgotten’ campaign is because that’s what we want young men to know, that they have not been forgotten, particularly by the church,” he said. “We realize that in underserved communities, fatherlessness is an issue. We also realize that there’s an absence of just real strong support, and we want to fill that gap.”
According to United States Census Bureau data from 2016, approximately 27% of children in the country live in single-parent homes — 23% of them single-mother, 4% of them single-father.
The local campaign, Robertson said, would look to provide a litany of services to boys — covering the full spectrum from kindergarteners to high school seniors — throughout the community.
While the proposed mentoring program wouldn’t solely focus on youths growing up in single-parent homes, Robertson said he certainly wants to put an emphasis on children who do — especially those in dire need of strong, positive male influences in their lives.
“Fundamentally, they miss out on the wisdom that they can gain from watching an older man, the ability to understand how a man endures heartbreak or hardships,” he said. “They miss out on seeing that firsthand if they don’t have that figure in their lives.”
Name: The Rev. Isaiah Robertson
Current City: Peachtree Corners
Hometown: Los Angeles
Occupation: Senior pastor / hazardous waste management training and development specialist
Daily Tribune News: To begin, what brought you to Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church and Cartersville?
Isaiah Robertson: Well, I have been in ministry since ’97, but when I saw the posting on the National Baptist Convention website for a vacant pulpit, the opportunity resonated and I prayed about it. So I posted for the position of senior pastor at Macedonia, and once I got there and started candidating, it really drew me there and caused me to fall in love with the church, with the people, and just the heart and the passion that they had … I was out of ministry for a while, a couple of years, and once I saw the posting there I just felt led and called to post for it. And the Lord really did the rest.
DTN: Can you give us an overview of the new youth mentoring program you’re planning in Bartow?
IR: Our desire is to partner with community organizations like The Circle of Advancement and Love Travels who are already doing great work in Bartow County and identify young men, grades K-12, to support, to mentor, to pour into, to walk with, to help groom them to become upstanding and productive adults. That’s really the goal. The “Not Forgotten” campaign is really designed to help train young men to be grown men and to be contributors to society and also to avoid some of the pitfalls and missteps some of us older guys had to endure.
DTN: Are there any particular services you’d like to provide in Bartow?
IR: I’d love to offer them after-school programs, and I would love to do that year-round, so that when they get out of school they can come somewhere and have structured programs, have games, tutoring. That’s something that I would love to do and explore. Another thing I’d like to do is establish some type of young entrepreneur training for young boys that, really, some of them already have a trade. Some of them are already really good with cars, some of them are great artists, they can draw, they can paint … we’d be able to develop their skills and help them to seek funding so that they can start businesses even at 15, 16 years of age. Another thing that I would like to do is help them with advocacy, to get involved in issues that affect them and their communities and to kind of help them become aware of different laws that could impact them, different issues that they just need to be cognizant of in order to navigate through life.
DTN: What is your outreach strategy for the program, in terms of partnerships with local schools and other organizations?
IR: Todd Dean, who presides over the Circle of Advancement organization, had a meeting with a counselor at Cartersville High. I’ve also reached out to the new superintendent of Bartow County Schools — we were supposed to get together but our calendars sort of crisscrossed, and that’s still a standing meeting that we’re going to have. So we absolutely want to partner with the schools, and outreach has begun for that. We’re also looking to partner with other churches. We would also like other churches to get onboard and join us because we want to change the narrative. The narrative right now is that churches, particularly black churches, they don’t do anything for the communities, we just siphon off money and we’re worried about our own programs. I want to change that narrative, so I would like to see other pastors and ministry leaders get involved in this initiative.
DTN: Why is a program like this needed in Bartow?
IR: There are young men everyday in Bartow County who go to sleep every night wondering if anybody cares. There’s an opioid crisis and an addiction crisis that’s affecting Bartow County that we have to address. In some cases, these young men might not necessarily go down the road of addiction if they have a strong mentor and a strong role model in their lives. It’s especially important for Bartow County, because if there’s one young man in Bartow County that feels like he’s alone, well, if it really does take a village to raise a child, then that’s not just the problem of the parents. That’s a problem of the village that surrounds the young man as well.
DTN: From your own experiences in the community, can you tell us about some of the problems young men who live in single-parent families are having within Bartow County?
IR: Sometimes he might be a latchkey kid where he’s got to come home and he’s got to cook his own meals. He’s really got to make his own way, and that’s through no fault of his mother. She’s doing all she can, however, and without another parent there, the burden is on her to bring home the bacon and fry it up, as well. There is a difficulty in ensuring these young boys growing up in a single-family home are able to be cared for and are able to be looked out for when their mother or their father is not there.
DTN: From your perspective, why is it so important for young men to have positive male influences in their lives?
IR: No. 1, I think it’s addressing some of the systemic problems that have taken fathers off the street in the first place. One of the things I would like to raise awareness of is the issue of mass incarceration, because unfortunately, a lot of fathers are currently in prison serving sentences for petty crimes and for petty drug charges that others would’ve received a slap on the wrist for. I absolutely see the crisis, and it’s a crisis that doesn’t just affect African-American young men, because in this country, divorce is extremely prevalent. There are broken homes all around this country, including Bartow County. And fatherlessness affects black faces, white faces and brown faces alike. My strategy around that is you’ve got to mentor the mentors. If you’re going to have a mentorship program, you need to ensure that you are also pouring into the men, and vetting the men, and encouraging the men and strengthening the men and providing structure for the men that will serve as mentors. I think that’s going to have a huge effect as well, because as the mentors are mentored, they’re going to impact their networks, as well. They’re going to ensure that their buddies and their friends that are their age, that they’re setting a positive example for them as well as the young men they are mentoring.
DTN: Can you tell us about the effects of fatherlessness on young men, and how that impacts them not just financially, but psychologically and even spiritually?
IR: If you’re a young boy, there are things that you can only learn from your father that, God bless them, you will not be able to learn from your mother. And the mothers do a phenomenal job, don’t get me wrong, they do the best that they can. But there are some lessons that can only be handed down from fathers. There are also some critical, sort of identity-shaping moments that young boys can only have with their fathers that they cannot have with their mothers. You have young men who are struggling, trying to be men and become men, but in the absence of a positive male figure and male role model, it’s hard because there’s nothing that they have to really aspire to. You begin to develop an anger that sort of festers in the subconscious and even for some young boys, it’s not subconscious, there’s a conscious anger that festers. It starts out at 6 years old, talking back to the teacher, but that anger — if it’s left unchecked and not dealt with — turns into full-blown rage at 20, 21 years of age. There’s an anger that comes with that feeling of being abandoned, that comes with feeling left behind. And all of that stuff comes as a result of fatherlessness, so we need to address it.
DTN: For those who may be interested in partnering with you for the campaign, how can they get in touch with you?
IR: They can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org — that would be the best way for them to get in touch with me. Or they can come and visit us at Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church at 521 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive in Cartersville. I’m there Sundays and Wednesdays, and they can come and talk to me personally if they desire to get involved.