By Richard Prince, Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education
HOUSTON - "One recent day at Dr. Natalie Carroll's OB-GYN practice, located inside a low-income apartment complex tucked between a gas station and a freeway, 12 pregnant black women come for consultations. Some bring their children or their mothers. Only one brings a husband," Jesse Washington, the Associated Press' race relations reporter, wrote from Houston on Saturday.
"Things move slowly here. Women sit shoulder-to-shoulder in the narrow waiting room, sometimes for more than an hour. Carroll does not rush her mothers in and out. She wants her babies born as healthy as possible, so Carroll spends time talking to the mothers about how they should care for themselves, what she expects them to do — and why they need to get married.
"Seventy-two percent of black babies are born to unmarried mothers today, according to government statistics. This number is inseparable from the work of Carroll, an obstetrician who has dedicated her 40-year career to helping black women.
" 'The girls don't think they have to get married. I tell them children deserve a mama and a daddy. They really do,' Carroll says from behind the desk of her office, which has cushioned pink-and-green armchairs, bars on the windows, and a wooden 'LOVE' carving between two African figurines. Diamonds circle Carroll's ring finger.
"As the issue of black unwed parenthood inches into public discourse, Carroll is among the few speaking boldly about it. And as a black woman who has brought thousands of babies into the world, who has sacrificed income to serve Houston's poor, Carroll is among the few whom black women will actually listen to.
" 'A mama can't give it all. And neither can a daddy, not by themselves,' Carroll says. 'Part of the reason is because you can only give that which you have. A mother cannot give all that a man can give. A truly involved father figure offers more fullness to a child's life.'
"Statistics show just what that fullness means. Children of unmarried mothers of any race are more likely to perform poorly in school, go to prison, use drugs, be poor as adults, and have their own children out of wedlock.
"The black community's 72 percent rate eclipses that of most other groups: 17 percent of Asians, 29 percent of whites, 53 percent of Hispanics and 66 percent of Native Americans were born to unwed mothers in 2008, the most recent year for which government figures are available. The rate for the overall U.S. population was 41 percent."