WASHINGTON (AFP) — White House contender Barack Obama Sunday demanded fathers, especially black men, shoulder their responsibility to heal broken families and restore hope in crime-ridden communities.
In a Father's Day speech at a Chicago church, the Democrat also pressed for government action to help struggling parents, through tax breaks, job training and family-friendly employment laws.
The African-American Illinois senator amplified one of his campaign themes in condemning absent fathers who have "abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men."
"You and I know how true this is in the African-American community," Obama said, recapping government statistics showing more than half of all black children live in single-parent households.
Such children are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime, nine times more likely to drop out of school, and 20 times more likely to end up in prison, he said.
"And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it," said Obama, who dwelt on his own challenges growing up with a single mother from the age of two after his Kenyan father abandoned them.
Highlighting one of the signature themes of his presidential bid, Obama said the "greatest gift" that fathers can give their children is hope.
"I'm not talking about an idle hope that's little more than blind optimism or willful ignorance of the problems we face," he said.
"I'm talking about hope as that spirit inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better is waiting for us if we're willing to work for it and fight for it. If we are willing to believe."
Obama, who is up against Republican John McCain in November's White House election, hit explicitly political notes in promoting government policies to give families a leg-up and craft a better future for today's children.
Dwelling on the kind of world his two young daughters may inherit, he said: "Are they living in a country where there's a huge gap between a few who are wealthy and a whole bunch of people who are struggling every day?"
"Are they living in a country where we are hated around the world because we don't cooperate effectively with other nations? Are they living in a world that is in grave danger because of what we've done to its climate?"
Obama, spending a rare day with his family off the campaign trail, addressed parishioners in the largely African-American Apostolic Church of God in Chicago's impoverished South Side district.
Two weeks ago, the Democrat quit his congregation of two decades at the nearby Trinity United Church of Christ after incendiary pulpit sermons there had embarrassed his White House campaign.
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