Last week I attended a piloted event co-sponsored by the United Way of Metro Atlanta and the Atlanta Promise Neighborhood Initiative. The gathering was exclusive to adult men from the community and its purpose was to discuss ways on improving our neighborhoods. The initiative is funded by the U.S. Department of Education which seeks to improve the educational achievement and healthy development of underserved children and families in northwest Atlanta.
Close to twenty men from all backgrounds, careers, and various generations came together with a feeling to take action that night. As we assembled together at a day care center for an evening of food, fellowship and fatherhood, we kept the focus on Child Education.
The moderator of the evening distributed a United Way’s Fatherhood Café Newsletter; the main article opened up like this…
“Fathers and other male role models who are consistently involved in their children’s lives help them grow up with a strong sense of self, a feeling of security and other positive characteristics. Research by the National Center for Education Statistics shows that children benefit from their father’s involvement in their schools. Male involvement has a distinct and independent influence on a child’s success. When a father (or other male figure) is actively involved in school, their children:
- Learn more
- Have fewer discipline problems
- Perform better in school
- Exhibit healthier behaviors
- Take part in extracurricular activities
- Enjoy school more
- Model positive adult male behavior
- Show an increase in problem solving skills”
For me, it was helpful to hear what was on the hearts of each brother. The pressures of work, family expectations, finances, spiritual direction, and other challenges were all earnestly expressed. It’s interesting that we all felt something common among ourselves – it was the future and outlook of our kids. The court verdict of the George Zimmerman trial and the recent murderous crimes made by African-American teenagers highlighted in the front pages of national news are heart-wrenching and troublesome. It became more obvious that these situations stem from the breakdown of the family.
Through the course two hours, we supported the idea of doing more in a child’s education. And since we were meeting in a day care center, it was a good start to volunteer our time by reading books to the toddlers, helping them with their work curriculum and interacting with them through songs.
One of the men in the room recited a statement that appealed to us. He said “We need to prevent the transfer of our kids from the school yard to the prison yard!” I extend my own thoughts by stating that our kids shouldn’t meet the graveyard too! Also, my hope is that we prevent our kids from being locked-out from educational and job advances; and also prevent our kids from being locked-up by unequal sentencing laws throughout the country!
On a positive front, we have come a long way…
1) This country has seen its first African-American U.S. President
2) This country has seen its first African-American U.S. Attorney General
3) This country has seen its first Hispanic woman Supreme Court Justice
But we still have a way to go…
1) The highest levels of prison inmate of men of color in a century*
2) The highest unemployment rate for men of color
3) Lowest college entries for men of color in twenty years
The exchange of thoughts and ideas continued in the small meeting room. We believe that most of our “next step” ideas will come into fruition, but baby steps are needed as we gel together as a team. It is amazing how just a handful of men from all walks of life and soon coming together to meet a common goal! When a community is in dire need of help, the core of individuals from that same community should find time to resolve matters.
Initiatives like this create a movement to build purpose and empower a community. And as we celebrate the March on Washington fifty years ago this week, I DREAM for equality shared by all, freedom for all, justice approved by all, and peace to all.
Let go people and do some good!
*U.S. Bureau Department of Justice – Prison Inmates 2009/Statistic Table