By Starla Muhammad
Despite challenges facing many Black couples and families during the economic downturn, now is the time to work on strengthening the ties that bind. The foundation of the Black community has always been family regardless of the pitfalls of high unemployment, financial strain and interpersonal conflicts. Cash strapped times can even affect physical and mental health. Instances of child abuse and domestic abuse increased during the recession noted several counseling and health websites.
Spiritual renewal and rejuvenation is a key component to facing and overcoming the obstacles many families are facing today say marriage and family advocates.
“There are several ways that we’ve found that we’ve been able to help couples as it pertains not to just their financial well-being but just the well-being of their families. One of those ways is strengthening your spiritual foundation,” said Ayize Ma’at who co-founded blackloveandmarriage.com along with his wife Aiyana. The couple said maintaining a spiritual connection in tough times is like having an anchor.
Whether it means going to a religious or spiritual service, engaging in devotion or evening prayer as a couple and as a family, that connection can help weather the difficult storms, they said.
The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam teaches that a strong home and strong family produces a strong community.
“The Honorable Elijah Muhammad says to us that the solution to our problems is a divine solution. Therefore the problem and the solution in terms of what is the biggest challenge, it’s a spiritual challenge,” said Student Minister Robert Muhammad of Muhammad Mosque No. 45 in Houston, Texas.
The second challenge is one of communication or lack thereof, added Mr. Muhammad, who has been married 31 years, has four sons and serves as the Southwest Regional Minister of the Nation of Islam.
“In order for a family to communicate, survive and prosper, they must be able to communicate, particularly in this information age. Because of technology we are actually less connected in a human kind of way than we were when we didn’t have the technology,” said Mr. Muhammad.
“Texting is so impersonal and everyone having their individual iPod, iPad, individual television, individual telephone, we have a tendency even within our own household not to sit down at the dinner table and discuss the day’s events or to plan tomorrow’s events,” he added.
Mr. Muhammad described communication as a “loop,” meaning there is call and response. He added that the Supreme Wisdom Lessons of the Nation of Islam is a perfect example of this.
“There are questions and those questions are followed by answers. Questions by Master Fard Muhammad, answers by the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad. So we should listen, become great listeners as well as people who can express our thoughts,” he added.
Financial stress and strain has led to a breakdown of marriage and family. Money disputes are one of the leading causes of divorce.
Unemployment rates for Blacks in America are still bleak, adding further stress for men and women wanting and needing to support their families. The overall unemployment rate in May was 8.2 percent but for Blacks it was 13.6 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Financial planners said families must become more disciplined in handling what little they have in terms of finances and stop making unnecessary purchases. Communicating often and effectively about a budget and sticking to it are key, add family and marriage experts.
Identifying what expenses can and should be readjusted or cut is something couples and families must discuss, they point out.
Tiya Cunningham-Sumter is a life and relationship coach and regularly contributes to blackandmarriedwithkids.com, an online marriage and family support site offering suggestions and solution, oriented advice.
“Planning ahead with schedules and bills will ultimately avoid stress in those areas altogether. We, along with our spouse can budget and put a plan into place that will allow us more time in the areas we have previously neglected,” wrote Ms. Cunningham-Sumter in her March 2012 article, “Stress Less, Love More”.
Dr. Alonzo Peters is founder of mochamoney.com, a personal finance and money management website that provides tips on helping Blacks reach financial independence. It is not how much you make, but how much you save that matters, Dr. Peters wrote. Anyone can build wealth regardless of the size of their salary, he added. The median wealth for Blacks in the U.S. is $4,995 versus $110,729 for Whites according to 2010 Census figures. The widening disparities are blamed on the severe economic downturn. Yet, even with these grim figures, the capacity to save even a little something is attainable.
If a single parent saves $50 per month, at the end of one year, he or she has accumulated $600 and after five years, $3,000. With a budget, individuals and families can track where their money goes and with discipline, can take necessary measures to save or invest.
In his 1965 book, “Message To The Blackman In America,” the Honorable Elijah Muhammad laid out a practical financial blueprint that is just as relevant then as it is today. “The first step the so-called Negro wage-earners should take is to spend only when necessary and according to their income. They should save as much of their salaries as possible – weekly, biweekly or monthly. We as wage earners should always plan to save something from whatever we are paid. Do not become extravagant spenders like the rich, who own the country and everything in it. It is sheer ignorance for us to try to compete in luxury with the owners,” Mr. Muhammad writes.
Despite hardships, spending time together as a family is a must. “We always encourage couples to have date night,” said Mrs. Ma’at. “We tell people all the time whether it’s weekly, monthly, you have to have date night but maybe you need to think about the date night looking differently, because we can’t always go out, spend money and have dinner and wine and dine,” she said. Families must be creative in cutting back, said Mrs. Ma’at. “We’ve got to sit on the floor. Maybe we’re going to have PB and J, I don’t know what you’re going to have but we gonna do what we gotta do! Have some spaghetti and we’re going to sit on the floor and put a little picnic blanket out and we’re going to have date night in the house with a dollar movie maybe from the Red Box instead of going to the movies that these days can cost you 50 bucks,” said Mrs. Ma’at.