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Monday, February 14, 2005 | It was Valentine’s weekend, and these women were looking for love.

But the 300-strong who flocked to the Hilton Mission Valley on Saturday didn’t rise-and-shine to pore over bachelors at a charity auction like beef buyers at a livestock sale, nor did they file into the hotel’s ballroom ready to swerve through a gauntlet of available males at a trendy speed-dating program.

In fact, several attendees weren’t looking for mates at all: They already had lovers. Rather, they came to learn how to love. Specifically, these women, almost all from San Diego’s black community, gathered to learn how to love their black men.

Brené Patrick, a local marriage and family counselor, coordinated Saturday’s conference to present the findings of her research on the topic, which included more than 50 interviews with black men about their perspective on relationships. The event sold out, and an afternoon session was added to accommodate the strong response.

Finding inspiration through her 1992 divorce, which she attributes to a psychological disconnect with her husband of eight years, Patrick felt that too often black men and their mates fail to achieve successful relationships because of influences greater than personal differences. Beyond racism and Jim Crow, blacks currently face a challenge that is being considered in many circles to be nearly as tragic: maintaining the black family.

Patrick publicized the event as the next step in the controversial debate about black home life ignited by entertainer Bill Cosby last May. Cosby publicly argued that the social ills felt by the black community start with irresponsible parenting.

Patrick, herself a mother, points to the high number of black children raised by single mothers – 69 percent nationwide, according to Pepperdine University public policy professor James Q. Wilson – for problems in the black community, especially blacks’ high imprisonment rates. Blacks are currently five times more likely than persons of other races to serve prison time, and 70 percent of long-term prison inmates were raised without a father, a 1998 Justice Department study showed.

“There is a correlation of the relationships we have and the high number of our sons going to prison,” Patrick said. “Women have a power to make a change in this, to create an environment where a family can grow.”

Black men’s relationships, Patrick claimed, often suffer because social psychological forces keep them suspicious of racism – sensitive to the generalities and expectations everyday society holds for blacks. The challenges of a black man often diminish his self worth, and likewise, they become perceived in the home as failures, she said.

To that, the crowd extended in unison an “amen”.

Tina Lassiter, a 43-year-old divorceé from Spring Valley, said she has worked on changing her negative view of black men.

“I have to change my heart from thinking they don’t do shit and aren’t worth a shit,” she said. “My heart was bitter and hard, and I’m trying to change that.”

Lassiter brought her 17-year-old daughter Tyeena to teach her about men.

“I want my daughter to learn to not make the same mistakes that black females make,” Lassiter said. “She needs to know the struggle a black man has and how to relate to him when he comes home in the evening.”

Patrick said black men face challenges – some real, some perceived – to their ideals and ambitions every day because of their race. To be a good partner, black men shouldn’t have to “be afraid of what’s on the other side of the door” when he comes home, she said. Instead, women can help by assuming a more traditional role as a female figure and provide a sanctuary for him to come home to.

Patrick offered examples of how women can make their men see them as a less antagonistic, more welcoming mate. Women should understand that they are not necessarily smarter than men, just different; that a man makes the decisions he does for a reason, not out of pure foolishness; that women are not perfect; that black men better thrive when they play a traditional male role in the relationship; and that women’s criticism, both verbally and in body language, can “speak life or death” of the relationship.

Kim Stevenson, a 40-year-old single woman from southeast San Diego, said she realizes her “powerful tongue” can often frustrate men.

“It’s a big ‘don’t’ for me,” said Stevenson, who received tickets to the event as a gift. “Men need us to empower them and give them encouragement.”

A panel of men, made up of black community and church leaders, were available to answer question the women attendees had. Questions ranging from the infidelity of a partner to what a man considers in a woman to know she’s “the one.”

Panel members reiterated the importance of an honest discussion about relationships.

“Generations are at stake if you don’t step up to the plate,” said panelist Rafiki Cai, a technology consultant for black leaders and organizations.

Patrick has also planned a similar program for men on April 9, titled “Learning to Love a Black Woman”.

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