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Strengthening families during tough times

By Starla Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Jun 26, 2012 - 12:56:22 PM

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'Marriage is a key institution, if we are going to build a strong family. If we are not concerned about family, then we are not concerned about our people and our Nation. If we have a weak family, we have a weak Nation. If we have a strong family, we have the potential for a strong Nation.'
—Minister Farrakhan

( - 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 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, 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, 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.


'As human beings our commitment goes up and down. Our consistency goes up and down. But if we have a system in place that encourages checks and balances within the family unit then it makes the kinds of things that we are talking about much more easy to do.'
—Aiyana Ma’at

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. 

Single parent households as well as those with two parents should initiate fun activities such as family game night as a way of cultivating and nurturing familial relationships.

Struggle is ordained and everything of value has a difficulty factor attached to it teaches Min. Farrakhan. Marriage and family is no exception.

“Marriage is a key institution, if we are going to build a strong family. If we are not concerned about family, then we are not concerned about our people and our Nation. If we have a weak family, we have a weak Nation. If we have a strong family, we have the potential for a strong Nation. Strong family is only built upon a strong relationship between the male and female, called husband and wife,” said Min. Farrakhan.

“The union of male and female in Arabic is called, “nikah,” which means “the uniting.” When two people agree to marry, they are not agreeing that they are, in fact, married. They are agreeing that there are things in both of them that are mutually compatible and they both desire to go down life’s road together.”

“They both solemnize their intention in a marriage ceremony, which does not say that they are, in fact, united, but it solemnizes their intention to struggle for that unity. Unity is a word so easily spoken, but it is a difficult thing to achieve. The union of sperm with ovum that began our life was a very difficult journey and process. It is only a sign of how difficult it is for a male and female to intend to be one and then work at it, until you make it so,” said Min. Farrakhan.

Families have to maintain balance during tough times as well said Mr. Ma’at. “When you start to find yourself leaning in one direction more so than the other for instance if you’re putting more attention towards work and negating the family then what happens is the most significant relationship that you’re trying to build ends up suffering,” he points out.  It is easy to get out of balance, said Mr. Ma’at.

Having regularly scheduled family meetings where every member of the household can bring up issues, problems and concerns for discussion is another way to make the family unit more cohesive.

“As human beings our commitment goes up and down. Our consistency goes up and down. But if we have a system in place that encourages checks and balances within the family unit then it makes the kinds of things that we are talking about much more easy to do,” said Mrs. Ma’at.

“There are resources out here particularly for families, for young couples that can really assist. If you get on the internet these days, there are all kinds of resources that will help us to figure out how we can do things better, or how we can be more productive with what we have, and how we can make our means stretch and that type of thing. But once we find out what we can do, how is it that as a family in this environment day to day, how is it that we can make sure that we stick with it, that we have the internal discipline and will?, asked Mrs. Ma’at.

“The way that you do that is that you have to have something that you lean on and so that’s why we really refer to that spiritual practice that has to happen so that will continue to give you the inner resolve we need as a unit to be able to do those things,” she added.

Once a spiritual and communication base is established it will help families overcome economic pressures, health issues and educational challenges, said Student Minister Robert Muhammad. “All of that with proper divine guidance will help us overcome all of the challenges that we face,” he said.  To keep these important components on track, Mr. Muhammad had a simple solution.

“It requires of us a renewed and sustained study of the Teachings of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad following the example of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.”