Just the other day I received an email from a young man whom I worked closely with while I was directing a Beacon School in the heart of Harlem during the early 1990’s. Victor was writing to invite me to a book signing for Bandana Republic, an anthology of poetry and prose by gang members and their affiliates. Unfortunately, our relationship was strained after a series of negative incidents, though he reminded me of our work together when he added in his note, “you know I still love you and I don’t regret much in my life but I do regret how I relationship was because you was a father, a brother and mentor and I truly appreciate it.” The sentiment which seeped from his usual hard exterior caught me off guard.
Victor’s email dovetailed my recent visit to Baltimore when I listened to an all-too familiar refrain from a group of young people who were overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds: they each described the pain of an absent and/or abusive father.
Research coming out of the responsible fatherhood movement increasingly and overwhelmingly points to the negative outcomes when fathers are not present and involved in the lives of their children. The two top indicators for incarceration, particularly for young men, are dropping out of school and not having a positive relationship with their fathers.
My audacious idea is to eliminate the concept of “fatherless” in our communities. Yes, let’s just erase the word from our lexicon and its acceptance from our collective consciousness. At the heart of this idea is the redirecting of public prison dollars to implement the following four-point strategy to eliminate the concept of fatherless one block, one family at a time:
1. Meshing of Best Practices from the Responsible Fatherhood and Mentoring Movements: The mantra of the merging of these two movements will be every child will grow up with the presence of a meaningful, loving relationship with a caring adult man in their lives.
2. Local Fatherhood and Mentoring Precincts: Every local police precinct would have a corresponding Local Fatherhood and Mentoring Precinct (LFMP), where 1) every child residing within the precinct would be under “supportive youth development surveillance”; 2) every father or male head of household residing within the local precinct would have access to supportive services from parenting resources to job development and placement services.
3. National Male Mentoring Project: That recruiting, screening and training of male mentors to be assigned to their nearest LFMP, ensuring an adequate presence of mentors and father figures for every child who needs one.
4. Preparing Fathers for Re-entry: The Center for Law and Social Policy reports that 55% percent of men in state prison are fathers and nearly half of them lived with their children before incarceration. They all must be prepared for family reunification, reintegration into their communities and obtaining stable employment, housing and access to equitable child support arrears reconciliation plans.
What could happen is that several years down the road a similar youth roundtable discussion would depict stories of how every young person was fathered and mentored in a way that was profoundly positive and meaningful.