Parents gain confidence after boot camp
By Terry Collins
MINNEAPOLIS — Teresa Rankin, 38 and a single parent, believes she’s finally equipped to be more firm and direct with her impetuous 15-year-old son without losing her temper — or her mind.
"I was scared because he’s at that stage where he thinks he’s a man, but I’m not going to lose him to these streets," Rankin, of Minneapolis, said. "I’m stronger."
She found that strength through Project Murua, a boot camp for black parents in Minneapolis whose members stomp and shout collectively on command that "our enemies are drugs, teen pregnancies, gangs, academic failure, violence ...
"And sometimes ourselves!"
Their battle cry is "to fight the battle to save our children’s lives."
The program drills parents in hopes of improving parent-child relationships, creating a support system for parents and honing disciplinary skills. The recent widely publicized beating death of 4-year-old Demond Reed, allegedly at the hands of his father’s cousin, underlined the importance of such skills for program supporters and participants.
"We’ve long known that many households in our community are fractured, way before this little boy’s death got everybody’s attention," said psychologist Dr. BraVada Garrett-Akinsanya, creator of the program at Harvest Preparatory, a charter school on Minneapolis’ North Side.
She created the program last year after hearing too many war analogies from frustrated parents who, she said, were "battle-worn and weary" raising their kids.
"We cannot be afraid to lean on each other for help," Garrett-Akinsanya said. "We are here not just to survive, but to prosper."
Murua (pronounced moo-ru-ah), which is Swahili for "respect," is a nine-week course.
Many heard about Murua via word-of-mouth after an inaugural group of parents successfully completed it in November. It’s funded through a city community development block grant.
Council member Don Samuels called the little-known initiative necessary. He painfully recalled the fateful tale of tiny Delijahjuan Winden, who died last March from a fractured skull after his caregiver slammed him into a car seat. He was just 5 weeks old.
"One of the challenges parents face is to willingly admit that they sometimes need help," Samuels said. "This program addresses it head-on."
Project Murua’s goal is to combat the perception that the black homefront is a wreck. About two-thirds of all black families are headed by a single parent (usually the mother), so a majority of black children live in fatherless households, according to 2000 U.S. census figures.
Those statistics don’t deter Murua parent Elkniah Richardson, 42, a father of three from Minneapolis. As one of two male participants, he credits the program with overcoming a major parental hurdle — having that frank talk about sex with his 14-year-old son.
"I might’ve failed as a husband, but I’m not going to (fail) being a good father," Richardson said, proudly showing a tattoo with the name of his kids — DeVon, DeYanni and DezYunai on his right biceps.
"It’s about us, our lives and our babies; it’s about our existence," said Rayni Omar-Taylor, a Murua facilitator. "We’ve got to learn to be self-sufficient and to trust one another."
A different world
In addition to hands-on parenting exercises, written tests and very blunt discussions, Murua participants serve as each other’s sounding boards and boosters.
"Parenting today is not the same as it was 20 years ago," said participant Elizabeth Fair, 49, a mother of seven ranging in age from 7 to 26. "We must realize that we live in an ever-changing society."
Her daughter, Gauchely King, 11, said, "I’m glad she’s here."
Frustration over housing, job, finances and other crises can push even the most civil parent over the top, said Dr. Brownell Mack, a Minneapolis psychologist and clinical director of St. Joseph’s Home for Children in Minneapolis.
"As parents, we have to learn what resources are out here," Rankin said. "If you choose not to, then you’re only hurting yourself and the ones you love."