600 Role Models

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What does it look like when the community responds to the needs of its children? 600 men show up when a school asks for 50.

Many boys across the nation leave homes with absentee fathers and go to school in search of positive male influence and role models. For the most part, they can navigate without their fathers unscathed. Many of them struggle and fail the pivotal transition from boyhood to manhood. But many of them muster up all of their grit to thrive. Though they may struggle, many of them defy the odds stacked against them and the statistics that are often used to predict their demise. They excel academically, socially, developmentally and in sports. However, due to no fault of their own, there is one area where they often all fail; having a father or father figure show up to events.

Like many young men, no matter how many great role models I have had, I always noticed the absence of my father. Even now as an adult, the void of his absence is noticeable. In, fact, I have never attended an event as a youth that was designed to bring fathers and sons together. The first time I attended such an event, was as an adult.

Last week, I read a story that moved me to tears because I could only imagine what it must have felt like to be one of the students present and witness the tremendous outpouring of support.

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Billy Earl Dade Middle School planned "Breakfast with Dads," and when over 150 students signed up, there was concern that many of them would show up to the event and there would not be enough fathers or male role models at the event. As the event approached, still not many fathers had signed up. One of the event organizers, Kristina Chaade Dove, took to social media to put out a call for at least 50 men to serve as mentors for just one hour.

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When the event arrived, over 600 men showed up. These men spent time with over 150 young men, teaching them how to tie ties, having meaningful dialogue and committing to being a presence in their lives.

Stephanie Drenka, blogger and photographer from Dallas, recapped the event, "Back in December, the team ran into some difficulty when planning their annual “Breakfast with Dads” event. Dade’s community liaison Ellyn Favors mentioned that student participation was low due to young men not having a father/father-figure available to attend the event. Kristina decided to post a call for volunteers on Facebook in the hope of finding 50 male mentors to accompany the middle schoolers…

The unexpected influx of interest led the team to move the event from the cafeteria into the gymnasium so they could house more guests. Kristina engaged the community again in getting volunteers to help with setup and check-in. Team members from Big Thought, the Office of Cultural Affairs, and even Kristina’s personal friends showed up alongside the male mentors to make the event possible…

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I will never forget witnessing the young students surrounded by supportive community members. There were so many volunteers, that at times I saw young men huddled in the center of 4-5 mentors. The look of awe- even disbelief- in students’ eyes as they made their way through the crowd of “Dads” was astonishing.

Jamil “, The Tie Man” Tucker, led the auditorium in a hands-on icebreaker activity. He spoke of learning how to tie a tie as a rite of passage some young men never experience. Mentors handed out ties to the eager students and helped them perfect their half-Windsor knot.

The sight of a necktie may forever bring a tear to my eye."

Leading up to the event, Donald Parish, Jr., who organized the event said, "When a young person sees someone other than their teacher take an interest in them, it inspires them. That's what we want to see happen." Often, students who are in the greatest need of caring adults get them in the form of teachers. The problem is, their teachers seldom get the credit they deserve. Students know their teachers care about them, most of them, to some degree. But this realization comes with the idea that they are paid to do so. Their view is that teachers care because it's their job to care.

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When young people encounter those who show they care when they don't have to, it hits home. So the impact this event must have had on those 150 boys who were in the room with 600 men who cared about them enough to donate their time, expertise and wisdom to show they care is coupled with an immeasurable positive impact.

As an educational leader in my community, I am often in search of ideas to bring home to our schools. Most of them come in the form of working to address the needs of Gary Hardie at 15 years old growing up in Lynwood. Its safe to say, this "Breakfast with Dads" event is one that I hope to borrow and bring to Lynwood. I hope we will see the same response as Billy Earl Dade Middle School did as 600 men mobilized to build a village around 150 young men who needed their time, influence, guidance and love.