In the quiet atmosphere of an Eastside community center Antoine Williams smiles as he thinks about his children.
“They are already straight A students and do well in school,” Williams proudly says.
Then, his tone becomes serious as he discusses his own education.
“I realize that it’s time to go for my diploma,” he added. “I’m tired of sitting around just watching my children get up and go to school. I have to be a better example for them so that they will stay motivated.”
Many young fathers, however, don’t make the kind of positive and constructive decisions Williams made. Numerous reports have indicated that more African-American households are dealing with the effects of fathers who are not present and actively engaged in the lives of their children.
Over 80 percent of Black households were led by both a father and a mother in 1950, but that number fell to less than 34 percent by 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
A recent study conducted by the University of California indicates that children, especially adolescent boys, run a higher risk of developing low self-esteem and making poor choices without their father’s involvement.
“The old adage that mothers tend to raise their daughters and love their sons may be truer than we thought,” said Carolyn Murray, an African-American psychology professor who co-authored the study. “Because parents tend to be stricter on children of the same sex, the pressure that fathers place on boys to achieve builds their self-confidence.”
Fortunately, many organizations in the Indianapolis area alone have stepped up to build strong Black fathers, including the Fathers and Families Center, 100 Black Men of Indianapolis, and the local chapters of national university fraternities such as Kappa Alpha Psi, Alpha Phi Alpha and Omega Psi Phi.
“The break down of the family is caused by the absence of strong male leadership. The foundation of a strong family is built around a father’s presence,” said Wallace McLaughlin, president of the Fathers and Families Center, which provides young fathers and expecting fathers with support services, programs and resources that help them improve their lives in the areas of parenting, education, employment and relationships.
“When you have strong families where men are the head and role model, then you’re going to have strong communities, and strong communities lead to strong nations,” McLaughlin added.
Williams, 28, recently enrolled in programs offered by the Fathers and Families Center to learn how to be a strong father and obtain his GED (General Education Diploma).
This week the center opened its new location at 3710 Mitthoffer Rd. on the far Eastside of the City. The new facility will complement the center’s downtown location at 2835 N. Illinois St.
“It’s really an extension of our services, and our goal is to provide the same level of programming to fathers on the Eastside as we do to those who go downtown,” McLaughlin said. “We are now more assessable to fathers in an area of the city that needs our services, where challenges such as crime have been serious.”
The Fathers and Families Center was launched as the Fathers Resource Program at Wishard Hospital in 1993, and became a separate non-profit agency in 1999.
“Our goal is improving the lives of children and making a better and brighter future for them,” said McLaughlin. “And the only way we can do that is by assisting young fathers in helping them become self-sufficient and engaged and involved fathers.”
Gerald Avery, 23, is working on his master’s degree to prepare for a career as an athletic director or school principal. At the same time, he is expecting a child, and visits the Fathers and Families Center to get ready for fatherhood.
“One of the things I’ve learned is how we as Black men often handle certain situations, and how our decisions can be translated to the next generation,” Avery said. “In other words, if our fathers weren’t around for guys in our age group, there’s a chance we might not be there for our kids. We have to break that cycle by adopting new values and passing them to our children so they will go in the right direction.”
One of the key factors in strengthening fathers, many observers say, is helping them remove the challenges and obstacles they face when they’re trying to do the right thing.
One of the biggest challenges, McLaughlin said, is the fact that many men want to fulfill their role as providers but cannot find gainful employment.
“This is exacerbated by the fact that some of the young fathers we serve are ex-offenders and our society is not forgiving, even after they have served their time,” he said. “Also, we help young men further their education because it is hard to be an educator to your children when you are not formally educated yourself. Finally, it is important to address mental health and substance abuse issues.”
Philip Jackson, founder and executive director of The Black Star Project, a national mentoring organization, said there are many active fathers out there, but they need support in their fight to keep youth from violence.
“As men we need to encourage each other, whether it’s in organizations, churches or on the street,” Jackson said. “If we are strong, we can be positive role models and show youth how to resolve conflicts peacefully and build generally good characters.”
Here is more information on how to get involved or receive support:
Fathers and Families Center
Phone - (317) 921-5935
100 Black Men of Indianapolis
Phone- (317) 921-1276