Jenice Armstrong: NAACP sponsors 'Black Love Experience,' a conference on dating and relationships at Temple University

Kiarra Solomon (right): "I'm not necessarily sure that for men in my generation that marriage is the ultimate."
Kiarra Solomon (right): "I'm not necessarily sure that for men in my generation that marriage is the ultimate." (SARAH J. GLOVER / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: February 22, 2012

THE NAACP's J. Whyatt Mondesire gets called a lot of things - hell-raiser, civil-rights activist, social agitator or even pain in the neck.

Well, here's a new term to add to the list: Love coach.

On Saturday, Mondesire will host a free conference on relationships at Temple University that's being billed as the "Black Love Experience." Sponsored jointly by the Philadelphia branch of the NAACP and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun, which Mondesire publishes, its purpose is to get twentysomethings talking about dating and relationships.

"Basically, if we don't fix black families, we're going to keep on burying young children," Mondesire said, referring to gun violence. "I can't march this problem away . . . there has to be a way to talk to people sensibly and calmly about how their relationships lead to children and what we can do with them, for them and by them once they are here."

The NAACP was founded 103 years ago to stop the lynching of blacks by whites, he reminds us.

"Now the killing is being done by us, against us. So it makes me say, what is going on with our relationships that so many children . . . are being born in circumstances where violence becomes a regular form of expression?"

Good points. But I have a hard time picturing Mondesire walking around in his trademark cowboy hat, passing out free condoms and overseeing a speed-dating event, as the "Black Love Experience" advertises.

Dr. Phil he is not.

"I'm involved with all of my children and always have been," said Mondesire, 63, who is twice divorced and is in a five-year relationship. "I'm learning like everybody else. I may not have had successful marriages, but I've had successful children. I have a son who is a doctor, a daughter who is a lawyer and a son who is about to become an accountant."

Concern about how his children's generation hook up and have no-strings sex as opposed to aiming for a steady relationship before introducing sexual activity is partly what got Mondesire focused on romantic relationships.

I applaud him, because unwed parenting is epidemic. An alarming 72 percent of African-American children are born to single mothers, increasing their chance of growing up impoverished and suffering from academic and social disadvantages. The New York Times recently called out-of-wedlock parenting "the new normal."

So, what do we do about it?

As Mondesire pointed out, "I can't march this problem away."

But he can encourage local singles to become more mindful about how and when they become parents.

"These are all conversations we shy away from," Mondesire told me when I stopped by his Germantown office on Monday. "Whenever I talk at the NAACP . . . when I'm angry about [former district attorney] Lynne Abraham or some injustice at the Police Department, everybody [says], 'Right on.' When I say 'Before I end, I want to talk about father-absent households and the toll that takes when we have to go bury children,' everybody gets real quiet."

It's the third rail of social issues.

So don't expect Mondesire to pull out his bullhorn on Saturday and go off on attendees about the evils of becoming a baby mama or baby daddy. Mondesire is quick to point out that his parents never married - he was born to a 43-year-old unwed mother in South Carolina after she had an affair with a married man.

"What she decided when I was born was that there was going to be a whole level of sacrifice that she was going to have to make and she did it. I don't see that happening today . . . she just made all those sacrifices to make sure I got a good education. She worked three jobs. I never wanted for anything. She also made sure that my father was in my life, which was great because it turned out what happened . . . She died when I was 11. If I hadn't known my father, I would have probably been put in foster care, because all of her family was way too old to take care of me," Mondesire said. Today "I don't see the same level of sacrifice in a whole lot of single-mother households."

He blames it on an overall societal breakdown.

"We don't expect any magic answers after Saturday. But we hope the conversation happens every year . . . We hope to see it repeated in different cities," he said.

If only the NAACP weren't so late to the game, I told him.

"It's just like AIDS," Mondesire acknowledged. "The NAACP slept through the AIDS crisis just like the black church did. We only got involved with AIDS - about 2001, 2002 - when we publicly declared it a national emergency in the black community and that we would begin to address programs."

Why the hands-off attitude toward the family issue?

"Like any organization that's a century old, we have a hard time adjusting to changes that are demanded. And these are not changes that are going to make us comfortable . . . like AIDS, like gay marriage, very controversial within the NAACP right now. We're looking at the possible coming out for the decriminalization of marijuana.

"We think that the NAACP, after more than a century, we've earned the credibility in the community, people know we're not there to pick a fight. We're not there to be judgmental or be moralistic . . . I'm preaching sensible behavior, whatever they can commonly agree on what that is," Mondesire said.

The Black Love Experience, noon-5 p.m. Saturday, Student Faculty Center, Temple University, Broad and Ontario streets. The event if free and lunch will be served. To reserve a spot, call 215-848-7864.

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