Fathers Matter: One Man Tries to Save the Black Family in Minnesota
Kendall Qualls, an African American, a conservative, and a former candidate for Congress, is on a mission to “resurrect the two-parent black family.” After a strong performance in a Congressional race that nonetheless fell short last year, Qualls has founded a new organization, Take Charge Minnesota, to take on the challenges facing the black community in his home state, including that of fatherlessness.
For more than five decades now, social scientists have gathered data showing that children thrive when they live with their mother and father. Although some researchers have attempted to undermine this notion in recent years, a newly released study by Bradford Wilcox, Wendy Wang, and Ian Rowe sponsored by the Institute for Family Studies shows that it is “no ‘myth’ to point out that boys and girls are more likely to flourish today in America if they are raised in a stable, two-parent home. They are less likely to be in poverty, to be incarcerated as adults, and more likely to go to college. It is simply the truth that white and black children usually do better when raised by their own mother and father, compared to single-parent and stepfamilies.”
While the researchers acknowledge that there are still gaps between the achievement of black children and white children in two-parent families, it is nevertheless true that black children from two-parent families do better than white children raised by single parents. The big differences observed are in the percentage of black children not raised with their fathers.
It is this challenge that Qualls hopes to help confront. A father of five (including one adopted child), Qualls describes himself as not “very political.” But after hearing the anti-American comments of Rep. Ilhan Omar—especially, for the former Army officer Qualls, her claims that the Army was the equivalent of ISIS and Al Qaeda—and the failure to respond by his own representative, Qualls decided to challenge Democratic Representative Dean Phillips for the 3rd District seat in the U. S. Congress. “Never in my life did I think I would hear a politician bashing our own country,” he said.
Though Qualls lost 55-46, he notes that he performed 5% better than did President Trump and well-known Senate candidate Jason Lewis. He thinks that had a lot to do with his approach. “People would say, ‘I’ve never had lunch with a politician. Your message is more about America than it is about a party.’”
Though he hasn’t ruled out future political runs, Qualls has now dedicated his time to the creation of the new foundation, TakeCharge, the mission of which, he says, is “his life’s testimony on steroids.” As the website describes, TakeCharge intends to “build a coalition of community champions, academic professionals, and business leaders to ignite a transformation within the black community of the Twin Cities by embracing the core principles of America – not rejecting them.”
Qualls actively defends American principles and thoroughly opposes Critical Race Theory, especially in the way it makes people judge others by their skin color. He recalls moving with his father from Oklahoma to Hawaii in junior high and realizing, among all the different ethnic and racial groups there, that he “literally had to judge people based on character.” Coming back to Oklahoma he decided to stick to that mindset—and he’s never looked back.
He particularly resents those pushing the narrative that nothing has changed in America in terms of fighting discrimination. “My father and father-in-law lived in the Jim Crow South,” he says. “My life and my sons’ lives are very different than their lives.”
A serious Christian whose political activity is rooted in his love of Christ, he recounts traveling to visit an adult son living in Tennessee and receiving communion in a majority white church. “There are hundreds of thousands of examples like this proving we’ve come so far. You can pass a law about sitting at a restaurant but you can’t pass a law that opens people’s hearts.” He’s been speaking on a multi-city tour to address the teaching of Critical Race Theory and argue for a better path.
The educational part of his mission includes working with those who are supporting school choice. Qualls pulled out his phone to show me a new video released by TakeCharge the day we talked. The video is the testimony of Rashard Turner, one of the founders of the St. Paul chapter of Black Lives Matter, who discovered that the organization was not so interested in black lives. As Turner put it, “I was an insider in Black Lives Matter. And I learned the ugly truth. The moratorium on charter schools does not support rebuilding the black family. But it does create barriers to a better education for black children.”
But closest to Qualls’ heart is the question of the family. The Wilcox, Wang, and Rowe study cites national statistics showing 37% of black children live with both parents. Qualls cites data from the Minnesota Department of Health putting the figure closer to 20%. He observes that in many inner cities such as Minneapolis, the figure is more like 10%. Like the researchers, he observes that the phenomenon of family fragmentation and failure to form families is a major social problem, and he laments the many forces that are trying to distract the public about this truth. Like the Institute for Family Studies researchers, Qualls argues that many of the challenges that plague black America will be mirrored in any group in which family statistics start to include so few children raised in two-parent households. He says, “Call me Paul Revere because I’m warning you, ‘The Progressives are coming, the Progressives are coming.’”
Qualls denies that he is “denigrating anybody’s lifestyle.” Instead, he says, he is trying to revive a way of life—the two-parent black family—that has been going “extinct” over the decades. Nor is he preaching despair to those who are in single-parent or divorced families. He was himself raised, first, by his mother after his parents divorced and then later by his father. Qualls certainly is not denying racism exists. He knows poverty, discrimination, and difficulty. Yet he has hope for the future.
TakeCharge is training “ambassadors,” black mothers and grandmothers first (“No one has more authority than a black woman trying to keep her children safe,” he says) and then black men, who will take his message of faith, family, and education on the road—to women’s centers, churches, and community centers—to show young people an example of healthy families and how to achieve them through responsibility and good relationship choices. Qualls describes a photo shoot he did with a group of young black men, who will serve as some of the group’s first ambassadors, for an ad to be placed in the Minneapolis Star Tribune for Father’s Day. The ad will be about young men who had a bad start in life but didn’t let it determine their future. The tag line, he tells me, will be: “They love God, their wives, their children, and their country. And they’re looking for a few good men.”
Qualls doesn’t deny that he has received pushback. Occasionally, some in the black community tell him he is contradicting their “culture.” His response: “What if the culture is wrong? I know Christ isn’t wrong.”
Mostly, Qualls says, he has received support because people see that he isn’t the messenger of a party or a tribe but a man who cares about the future. What he usually hears is, “When are you coming to Houston? When are you coming to Atlanta?”
Kendall Qualls is a man on a mission, and more people are realizing that his mission is not a partisan one —it’s a human one that people from every background should be able to embrace. “The issues I support transcend politics,” he says. And he’s right: families matter, and fathers matter.
David P. Deavel is editor of Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, co-director of the Terrence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law, and Public Policy, and a visiting professor at the University of St. Thomas (MN). He is the co-host of the Deep Down Things podcast.