NEW YORK (FinalCall.com) – The first day of school in New York City turned out to be much more than a day of getting back to the three “R’s” for men participating in this year’s Million Father March.
Fathers across the U.S. were encouraged to escort their children to school on the first day of the 2008-2009 academic year and to become and remain active in their children’s education.
The first march was in 2004, and this year schools in all five New York boroughs took part in the event, including Staten Island, the city’s smallest borough.
According to Tammy Greer-Brown, director of Staten Island-based Celebrating Real Family Life, P.S. 14 was chosen because it “sits in a neighborhood that suffers from the social problems that plague our communities.”
The New York State Dept. of Education labeled P.S. 14 “persistently dangerous”–under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. A school earns the designation after two successive years of serious incidents such as homicide, robbery, use or threatened use of a weapon. P.S. 14 sits next to a public housing project known for drugs and gun violence.
A student attending the Intermediate School just a block away from P.S. 14, and a resident of the housing project, was arrested for carrying a gun on the last day of school in June.
“Well, that’s why we feel so strongly about today’s event. We know it will take some getting used to, but the fact is we need the fathers getting involved,” insisted Ms. Brown. When fathers are involved students get better grades, juvenile delinquency drops, sexual promiscuity goes down, and the children are so much more secure, she said.
Phillip Jackson, executive director of the Chicago-based Black Star Project and sponsor of the Million Father March, said: “Research shows that children whose fathers take an active role in their educational lives earn better grades, get better test scores, enjoy school more, and are more likely to graduate from high school and attend college.”
As the children left for their P.S. 14 classrooms, the 30 dads, some as young as 17, made their way to the school’s cafeteria for breakfast. They were met with a rousing round of applause.
“We’re working on parent involvement, and if we can pull the fathers in, I think it would make a world of difference,” said school Principal Nancy Hargett.
The New York State Office of Children & Family Services partnered with the city Dept. of Education to encourage participation in the Million Father March. The agencies provided community outreach through posters, fliers and media announcements to encourage fathers, grandfathers, foster fathers, stepfathers, uncles, cousins, big brothers, significant male caregivers and family friends to take children to school on the first day of class.
Daryl Peake, 51, is a grandfather who escorted his two granddaughters to school. He plans on bringing them on a regular basis. “You have to instill in a child that somebody cares about them,” Mr. Peake said.
“We need more parents to get involved and we need help from the government with programs,” Mr. Peake added.
“There is a place for government, but you cannot wait on city hall or on Washington, D.C.” Mr. Jackson told The Final Call. “We have to build on the momentum gained by this year’s march by establishing a Million Father Movement,” he said.
Mr. Jackson said it was a great day in Chicago Sept. 2, some fathers were heard saying it was the first time they walked a child to school. At least 16 fathers per school walked their children to the door, and there are 600 schools in the city Chicago, he said. “The MFM first takes place in the heart of the father and then the connection between father and child grows,” Mr. Jackson said.
“We had inmates in Cook County Jail write home to ask a male relative to take their child to school. The spirit here in Chicago is great,” Mr. Jackson added.
In Philadelphia, the House of Umoja, Inc. organized the city’s participation. “We are asking fathers throughout the city of Philadelphia to not only escort their child to school on the first day of school, but we are also asking them to pick up a copy of their child’s roster, and a copy of the academic calendar of events from their child’s school,” said David Fattah of the House of Umoja.
According to Mr. Jackson 600,000 fathers were expected to participate in 475 cities. “Our slogan is Educate or Die,” he told The Final Call.
On its website, the Black Star Project published high school graduation rates for Black males compared to White males in varied cities. In New York, 26 percent of Black males graduate compared to 50 percent of White males; Chicago, 35 percent to 57 percent of White males; Baltimore, Md., 35 percent for Black males to 57 percent of Whites; Cincinnati, Ohio, 43 percent White to 25 percent Black; Atlanta, Ga., 63 percent White to 35 percent Black and Houston, Tex., 35 percent Black male graduation rate compared to 58 percent for Whites.
“It is time to move past talk and start direct action; 365 days of action, where Black men are now responsible for their communities and their children,” Mr. Jackson said.