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This special news report, hosted by Bill Moyers, explores the recent societal changes in black American families and communities. Moyers explains that currently, 60% of black children are born out of wedlock to single mothers without partners. Seventeen-year-old Clarinda lives in Newark with her mother and infant daughter, explaining that she attends a special school for dropouts and was not using birth control when she became pregnant. Her child's father, Darren, states that he does not attend school or have a job and spends his days "killing time," and Clarinda notes that he cannot adequately care for himself, let alone a child. Clarinda relies on welfare and opts for an abortion when she becomes pregnant by Darren a second time, stating that she did not have appropriate guidance from her mother or grandmother, both unwed teen mothers as well, but will not allow her daughter to repeat her mistakes.

Twenty-three-year-old Alice, who is expecting her third child, also lives in Newark and graduated from high school and found a job before becoming pregnant for the first time. Her children's father, Timothy, reveals that he has currently six children by four women and does not support them financially, though takes a sense of pride in their birth and development. The local single mothers refer to the first of the month as "Mother's Day" as they collect their welfare, though Alice notes that it makes her feel "lazy" and that she would prefer to work. Alice admits that she was "scared" of birth control, believing that it caused cancer, and Timothy is pleased with the birth of her third son, explaining that he is "highly sexed" and does not take his romantic encounters with women seriously.

Fifteen-year-old Bernard explains that he has started a rap group with his friends, The Educated Three, and that their songs describe the hardships of their impoverished, often violent upbringing. His unmarried mother Brenda, noting that her children's fathers are unhelpful, heads for a family reunion in North Carolina, and her relatives observe that it is getting increasing difficult to hold a family together. Brenda's boyfriend Lamont has kids of his own and was also born of a single mother, and he describes feeling like "the man of the house" from a young age and engaging in violent behavior, once shooting a man for a mild insult. Brenda observes that Bernard is "still more boy than man," and she expresses her hopes that he will overcome his situation and make something good of his life.

Police detective Shahid explains that he too was an unmarried father before becoming a cop at twenty-one and taking on a mentor role in his community, feeling that kids, including Bernard, need love and structure to flourish. He describes the challenge of convincing low-income kids not to get involved with drug-dealing despite the allure of making easy money, and observes that Timothy has no "road map" for life and is squandering his own artistic talent. He notes the positive and negative aspects of welfare, suggesting that it can contribute to a cycle of dependency, and adds that society's shifting views on sex and pregnancy have contributed to the rise in unplanned children born to teens.

Dr. George Jackson of Howard University explains that children born to young, poor parents are often not adequately taught how to manage their feelings of "depression and terrible anger," leading them to engage in negative behavior themselves. He states that the "disease" of fractured families will soon spread beyond poor neighborhoods like Newark and affect society at large. James and Carolyn Wallace work at a community center and seek to teach kids that "they matter," and Carolyn explains that the lack of job opportunities have caused young men to become unmotivated. She states that welfare "is not the best thing for everybody" and needs to be improved as a system, and she notes that while many societal issues are rooted in racism, individuals must take responsibility for their own moral behavior, stressing the importance of spreading the "drumbeat" of positive change.

Moyers then sits down with a number of experts, including Reverend Jesse Jackson, Newark Director of Police Charles Knox, Georgetown University Professor of Law Eleanor Holmes Norton and Harvard University Professor of Political Economics Glenn Loury, for a roundtable discussion on the issues presented in the documentary. The conversation touches on such topics as: the impossibility of simply "recreating" oneself without assistance; how media has "maximum access" to young people's minds and spreads negative messages about "decadent" personal behavior through shows and song lyrics; "moral degeneracy" as environmental rather than inherent; the importance of "local culture" in determining one's behavior and values; why the issues of poverty, crime and teen pregnancy are disproportionately affecting the black community; how the current statistics stand to negatively affect future generations; the need for a balance of personal effort and opportunity; how welfare is sometime "the easy way out" with little incentive to rise above it; whether some young people are "unsalvageable"; a highly successful Massachusetts welfare program that offered education and job opportunities for recipients; the "four choices" of private jobs, public jobs, welfare or crime; why some young people feel they "can't lose" with crime, as the "comfort" of jail is considered a tolerable option; failed White House conferences on family issues and "traditional values"; the need to provide childcare to working single mothers so that the children are not neglected and "raised by peer groups" instead; the challenge of teaching personal morals in a "pluralist society" that also values individual freedom; the importance of social leaders within the black community; and the moral implications of metal detectors in schools.


  • DATE: 9:00 PM
  • RUNNING TIME: 1:37:50
  • COLOR/B&W: Color
  • CATALOG ID: B:09875
  • GENRE: Education/Information
  • SUBJECT HEADING: African-American Collection - News/Talk/Docs; Education/Information; African-American families
  • SERIES RUN: CBS - TV, 1986


  • For Part 1:
  • Perry Wolff … Executive Producer, Writer
  • Ruth C. Streeter … Producer, Director, Writer
  • Lionel Phillips … Associate Producer
  • Kate Roth Knull … Broadcast Associate Producer
  • Michael Christian … Assistant Producer
  • Bill Moyers … Correspondent
  • George Jackson … Interviewee
  • James Wallace … Interviewee
  • Carolyn Wallace … Interviewee
  • For Part 2:
  • Perry Wolff … Executive Producer
  • Ruth C. Streeter … Producer
  • Kate Roth Knull … Producer
  • Michael Christian … Assistant Producer
  • Arthur Bloom … Director
  • Bill Moyers … Host
  • Jesse Jackson … Panelist
  • Charles Knox … Panelist
  • Eleanor Holmes Norton … Panelist
  • Glenn Loury … Panelist