On February 18, 2010 – in honor of Black History Month – the Alliance of Concerned Men (ACM) hosted a roundtable and town hall meeting at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) titled “Fatherhood and Solutions to Youth Violence”. The event was deemed an historical occasion with the first African American U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, Jr. and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) in attendance for the town hall meeting.
The purpose of the roundtable and town hall meeting were to open dialogue about these specific issues – which continues to plague the African American community – giving those in attendance an opportunity to weigh-in and provide policy makers and stakeholders with information and possible solutions that could change the conditions many African Americans are forced to endure. There are many factors that can infl uence a man’s decision to be and/or remain distant from his offspring. As a result, an increasing number of youths are getting introduced to America’s criminal justice system, perpetuating a cycle that adults realize they contribute to – but fail to do anything about.
According to Holder, just in DC, there are 2,500 active gang members, 5,000 loose affiliates, 156 juveniles crammed into a detention center meant to house no more than 88 youth offenders, hundreds of robberies and dozens of murders. “But behind these numbers are the stories of lost children, unrealized dreams, shattered families and grief beyond measure,” said Holder to a passionate audience. During the roundtable discussion about fatherhood, Byron Browder, Chair of the ACM, insisted that everyone share their knowledge and possible solutions to this crisis. Millions of children don’t live with their fathers. According to Browder, African-American youths are more likely to live in fatherless homes. After Browder’s opening remarks, one-by-one, men began to raise their hands to speak.
“If we as grown people – male and female – put aside domestic relations and tend to the needs of the child there will be a stronger bond,” one man said. “People tell me that they don’t have a relationship with their child because their child’s mother won’t let them see them due to finances.”
Another man said “Fatherhood needs to be taught,” and the group agreed that young boys need role models to show them how to be men – most importantly, fathers. “Why are there not a lot of fathers? It’s because of the bootie-call…,” said the only woman who commented during the discussion. “It’s not that the father does not care; it’s the mother who don’t care…The mother should have a relationship with someone before she goes to bed. [The father] can’t be a father just because he went to bed with her. [The father] has to have some relationship to be a father.”
The roundtable panel included: President of UDC Allen L. Sessoms, executive director of Healthy Families/ Thriving Communities Collaborative Council Jacquelyn Henry, senior policy advisor for Corrections in the Department of Justice Gary Dennis and deputy director of the White House Office of Faithbased and Neighborhood Partnerships Ben O’Dell.
According to Henry, there are five factors that can help strengthen the family:
- parents and children need to have trusting relationships;
- parents need to have knowledge of youth and child development;
- parents need to be resilient;
- families need social connections;
- families need to have at least the basic necessities like food, shelter and clothing.
The town hall panel included: executive director of East of the River Clergy Police Community Partnership the Rev. Donald Isaac, former NBA player for the Houston Rockets Steve Francis, Howard University Professor Tricia B. Bent-Goodly, 100 Black Fathers founder Frank Malone and Ivan Cloyd from the ACM. According to information on the Men’s Health Network’s website (www.menshealthnetwork.org), men who are involved in their children’s lives are less likely to be violent, do drugs and commit other crimes. Moreover, children with fathers who are present are more likely to excel in school. Men should: jump right into parenthood because it takes practice in order to be a good parent, be themselves, communicate with their partners to show how serious they are about being involved, know their legal rights and stay involved after separation or divorce. For more information contact: firstname.lastname@example.org