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Ben Mikesell | The Journal Gazette
Judah Smith, 4, sits on his uncle Cameron Smith’s lap Saturday at the second annual Back to School Fatherhood Initiative at McMillen Park.

Role of father figures vital

2nd annual forum urges black men to set positive examples

Fathers and mentors attending the second annual Back to School Fatherhood Initiative on Saturday realized it wasn’t just their children who should be taking notes.

The stern but charismatic voice of author and national speaker Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu vibrated the walls of McMillen Park’s community center as he quickly scratched out the facts on the overhead projector – 1 million black men are imprisoned.

But he also pointed to a lesser-known statistic he said he doesn’t hear often: 1.4 million black men are in college.

Kunjufu looked up. “How many of you plan on going to college?”

Michael Beaty’s grandsons were two of the first to pop up from their seats.

“My goal is to not tear down an absent father, but to build up young men in their time of need,” Beaty said. His grandsons, 13-year-old Arryon Starks and 12-year-old Jaylyn Starks, sat next to him with notebooks in hand. “It’s not about the location, it’s about the destination.”

The Back to School Fatherhood Initiative is hosted by the Fort Wayne Commission on African American Males and City Councilman Glynn Hines, D-6th. The event provided backpacks and supplies to the first 400 fathers or male mentors who pledged to be active in their children’s education, but it was more than just a giveaway.

Before anything was handed out, participants were offered free workshops on anger management, mental health, record expungement and education.

Although there appeared to be a smaller turnout than last year, Hines said leftover supplies will be donated to local school drives. What was more important for the commission was to show the active role black men need to take in raising children.

“We want them to role model excellent parenting skills – be a good father, be a good parent, be a good brother,” Hines said. “You have to be a role model because our young black men model what they see. So when they see rappers disrespecting a woman, that’s what they’re going to emulate.

“We want to change that paradigm to where there’s a positive role model that encourages reading, encourages academic achievements, encourages staying within the law.”

The event also recognized four men who exemplify the type of role models the commission is looking to create.

This year, Pastor Otha Aden of Southern Heights Baptist Church; Thomas Smith of Smith Academy for Excellence Boys School; educator and organic gardener Ephraim Smiley; and Henry Beasley, father of professional soccer players Jamar and DaMarcus Beasley, were honored for their impact on the community.

Smith said the academy tries to personalize the academic journey for all of students, and he believes the particular attention given to boys who may not have been successful in other classrooms has made the difference.

“Our whole philosophy in how we teach is geared toward using research,” Smith said. “Boys do learn differently than girls, boys handle things differently than girls, so we teach in a way that is effective. …

“Parents have told us that not only have we impacted how students respond academically in school, but how they respond behaviorally and socially at home. That’s our goal. If we can impact those young men, we believe those young men will impact their families, those families will impact the community.”