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Three experts discuss positive images of fathering

Tue, Jun 17, 2014

StreetWise Father's DayA father’s absence in a child’s upbringing is not always a result of a careless man, says Alex Roseborough, founder of an organization that mediates between non-custodial fathers and mothers or guardians.

Many cases involve incarceration, unemployment, poverty, or a tumultuous relationship between mothers and fathers that results in the inability of the father to build a relationship with his children.

Fathers, Families in Transition, Inc. (FFIT) focuses on providing education and support services (anger management, recovery coaching, career and job placement) to custodial and non-custodial fathers, their children, significant others, and other family members regarding parenting concerns and other social/economic issues.

For Roseborough, the lack of a male figure (his parents divorced when he was 3, his mother remarried and he saw his father only every few years) eventually led to his involvement with drugs and alcohol, a common outcome among fatherless children, he said.

As he is currently 27 years sober, he mentors fathers who have the potential to play an essential role in their children’s lives, but who perhaps are lacking the tools.

Alex Roseborough

Alex Roseborough

According to the 501c3’s website, it is a misconception that fathers who are homeless, formerly incarcerated for low-income lack interest in their children’s upbringing, but these factors do handicap some men in the African-American community. Roseborough said that he starts by working with a man’s “assets”– a good appearance or ability to express himself– and building on them until the man gets out of his “discomfort zone” and into the larger world.

“Being African-American I have to be most concerned about my community because we are the ones suffering. It’s not about finger pointing, it’s about waking up. We have to start holding other people accountable.”
Holding people accountable is just one aspect of Roseborough’s job. To him, it is the therapeutic, friendship-based relationships he builds with clients where he has seen the most effective results.

Roseborough told the story of a woman with substance abuse issues who sought refuge from her abusive boyfriend. The couple had three children together.
“To an extent, we brought them from addictions, beating each other up, cutting each other up, to having a healthy relationship and having a relationship with a higher power,” Roseborough said. “Most significantly, getting married and getting the kids back into their lives. They’ve been clean and sober maybe 12 years. If ever there was a reward in all these years, that couple is it.”

Roseborough hesitates to call his role “counseling,” though. Instead, he describes it as an obligation to listen to others, which in turn empowers the person seeking recovery.

He has been vice chair of the Illinois Council on Responsible Fatherhood and is a member of the board of advisors for the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative.

Fathers Who Care, founded by the Rev. Walter Jones, also works to promote the emotional and economic circumstances of fathers.

Rev. Walter Jones

Rev. Walter Jones

Jones emphasized that men in the African American community have been “given a particularly bad rep” when it comes to fatherhood. Often, they want to care for their own children and for the children of their significant others but they may be financially limited.

“They are not deadbeat but dead broke,” he said.

One of the organization’s most important goals is improving fathers’ financial opportunities by teaching them marketable skills and even assisting them in returning to school.

“They want to get back to the normal way of making a dollar,” Jones said.
The organization partners with both educational institutions and job training programs to increase fathers’ earning potential. They host job fairs and refer men in need of work to temp agencies, trade programs and government assistance. In addition, their 2,500 volunteers a year assist with mentorship and men’s health initiatives that focus on issues such as prostate cancer, HIV, and heart disease.

They also teach men about their legal rights when it comes to custody.
Jones said that his organization is involved with several events during the month of June to commemorate Fathers Day. One such event is “Fatherhood Buzz,” promoted by President Obama to encourage responsible fatherhood. Volunteers visit local barbershops, a traditional place of gathering and dialogue for men, and deliver “responsible fatherhood information resources and support to fathers.”

Fathers Who Care was founded in 1997, years before father empowerment was an issue in the spotlight.

“We were some of the pioneers of this real fatherhood movement because 15 or 20 years ago it wasn’t a movement, it wasn’t even fashionable to talk about it,” Jones said.

The organization was praised by President Obama and Gov. Pat Quinn as “one of the leading agencies in America for addressing the Rights and Responsibilities of Fathers.” Jones added that the 501c3’s services are usually free and available to men of all ages from all neighborhoods and backgrounds.

“We don’t have any restriction on our involvement with men,” he said. “If they accept the title of father we want to be there to help in whatever way we can.”
They’re also involved with the annual Real Men Cook barbeque that takes place annually on Fathers Day. They bring young fathers to the event to expose them to the community and the resources available there.

Real Men Cook celebrates its 25th anniversary this year with the 3-6 p.m. event at The Legacy, 119th and Loomis St. The non-profit doesn’t use the word “father” in its name because it wants to acknowledge father figures, who get little media attention, said Rael Jackson, its second-generation president. Yvette Moyo Gillard and her then-husband, Kofi Moyo, founded the organization in 1989 after they examined their blended family of nine children; they built its brand for nearly 20 years. Jackson calls Kofi Moyo his “bonus father.”

Yvette Moyo, at far right, and Kofi Moyo, in back center, founded Real Men Cook when they examined their blended family of nine children.

Yvette Moyo, at far right, and Kofi Moyo, in back center, founded Real Men Cook when they examined their blended family of nine children.

The 100 men who are registered have taken a food sanitation course and will prepare enough for 300 people to sample. Offerings include jerk chicken, grilled catfish and chicken, peach cobbler, sweet potato pie and even hamburgers and hot dogs for kids, as well as grilled corn and potatoes. Besides jump houses and pony rides for kids, there are Microsoft X boxes for teenagers and a health and wellness pavilion. Doctors will be on hand from the Illinois Department of Public Health and the University of Chicago.

“The doctors will take off their coats and be grilling as well,” Jackson said. “We all come together as brothers in that day across all cultures. It’s a real positive energy as men. We showcase that for the community. Every day we see the violence and the horrible tragedies that happen in urban America. Real Men Cook shows a different side of that story. Most of us want to see our youth do better, get educated and grow up in a positive way.”

During the weeks leading up to Father’s Day, Real Men Cook advertises heavily on radio, Jackson noted, which heightens awareness of its message about “men doing the right thing, men who are custodial fathers, men who are involved in the community: the coach, the teachers who want to play a role in the lives of kids.”

As a 501c3, Real Men Cook has generated over $1 million for nonprofits including the DuSable Museum of African American History, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, scholarships to Washburne Culinary Institute and an urban garden in Englewood that supports a healthy eating curriculum in Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move program. Before he was President, Barack Obama participated as a cook for four years; he wrote the forward to the organization’s cookbook.
When men cook, Jackson said, it’s a demonstration of love that slows the family down enough to eat together.

“It’s something that’s missing in our community and it’s not just a black thing. It’s the way fathers have been portrayed the last 30 years. Homer Simpson and Al Bundy – the buffoon—have been the archetype of the father. What’s missing in the fast food generation is that people do not know what their kids are doing, if they have weapons they are carrying to school or if they have been bullied. If we can bring these conversations to the dinner table we can go a long way toward correcting the issues we have in our community.”

By Editor-In-Chief Suzanne Hanney and Editorial Interns Emma Peters and Mariah Woelfel

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