Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The proFATHERS Project: A Proposal

As a youth motivational book writer and male-based counselor, I find the forFATHERS Project to be a welcomed alternative student development program. Considering the role of music, story-telling and other art forms in African, African American and Caribbean American culture, the forFATHERS Project addresses the many social ills that typically hinder both academic and personal development, namely low expectations, lack of opportunities and few to no exposure to positive male caregivers. In my twenty years working with overlooked populations, from incarcerated teens to secondary-level students having difficulty transitioning from high school to college, I find that the common denominator in at-risk youth is the absence of fathers who may have fathered them but neglected to help raise them or want to be involved in their daughters’ and sons’ lives, but are not allowed to by resentful mothers. For girls, it means carrying the burden of defining their pre-teen years and young womanhood without the input of a male figure in the home. For boys, it’s even more urgent as the burden of defining manhood on their own creates counter-productive behavior in the family system and overall community, as street life becomes the over-arching dad that teaches hyper-masculinity and urban warfare as prerequisites to ideal manhood. School and community incentives that specifically address Black and Hispanic youth are currently the trend, in an effort to improve scholastic performance and college retention. However, the standards or formulas that policy-makers tend to use rarely place the father front and center. He is instead treated—on paper, at least—as a cultural piece of the puzzle too complex and perhaps too controversial to fit at the decision-making table. The inconvenient truth here is that fathers—Black fathers, especially—are expected to be missing in action, while the actions caused by family court biases, ineffective welfare programs, and principals and college administrators who do not take the input of fathers seriously; much less, as a crucial piece of the family unit and overall child development all add to the problem at hand and not the solution.

To the single mother not prone to viewing her son’s or daughter’s father as the enemy, the forFATHERS Project is a solution to feeling alone and powerless. To the frustrated mom who is unaware of her options, it’s an opportunity to learn how to begin the healing process by being exposed to responsible and reliable male instructors and counselors who provide a refreshing contradiction to Black male stereotypes. And to the single father, still invisible yet quite prominent in our communities, the forFATHERS Project mirrors their plight as determined agents of positive change. The children themselves undoubtedly benefit from non-traditional approaches to addressing an on-going national crisis. That is, how do we engage our youth in the American educational experience? How do we make it worth their time to come in and stay? How do we effectively compete with crime lords and the realities of unemployment and entire communities suffering from depression and victimization? 

I believe that supporting the forFATHERS Project is supporting the next generation and those to follow. I can say the children smile more; participate more and learn more. Because their aspirations in the eyes of innovative instructors and program leaders are not limited to standardized testing, but rather reflect sensible and realistic approaches to effective education.

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