Local leaders give students handshakes and words of encouragement on first day of school as part of the Million Father March
BY PENNY DICKERSON
The pitter pat of anxious feet marched forward with pride to shake the hands of leaders in the annual Million Father March, a national movement that provides an opportunity for men to show their commitment to the educational success and social development of their children on the first day of school and throughout the school year.
Leading the symbolic line at Turie T. Small Elementary School in Daytona Beach on Monday was Bethune-Cookman University President Dr. Edison Jackson followed by civic, judicial and school board leaders, including Daytona Beach City Commissioner Paula Reed, Volusia County School Superintendent Tom Russell and retired Volusia County Circuit Judge Hubert L. Grimes.
“It is an honor to participate in this positive effort with the Million Father March. It is our duty as a community-based university to be involved in any way that we can. I am so pleased that our students, staff and faculty will be there as well,” Jackson said prior to the march. He will lead the initiative again at 7 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 31 at Westside Elementary School, 1210 Jimmy Ann Drive.
The Black Star Project
Reading is fundamental are the first words students decoded Monday morning didn’t light up smart phones or notes passed during class. Instead, leaders held up laminated inspirational signs that stated: Welcome Back to School, Education is the Key to Success, Men Standing for Action, Science is out of this world, Math is Powerful.
All of the aforementioned aligned with the mission of The Black Star Project, a Chicago-based non-profit organization founded in 1996 to provide educational services that improve the life-quality outcomes of less-advantaged Black and Latino communities and to close the racial academic achievement gap.
The organization launched the Million Father March in 2004 and expected 700 cities and 1,100,000 men to participate this year. The march is an opportunity for Black men to show their commitment to the educational lives of their children on the first day of school and throughout the school year.
No child left without
Research shows that children whose fathers take active roles in their educational lives earn better grades, score higher on tests, enjoy school more and are more likely to graduate from high school and attend college.
The Florida Department of Education School Accountability Report (2013-14) stated that 74.5 percent of the students enrolled at Turie T. Small Elementary were Black or African-American and 95.9 percent were classified as economically disadvantaged. On Monday, they were greeted and empowered by leadership united to help ensure they beat the odds.
“Today we’re actually showing our families, our communities and students themselves that education is important,” said Stephen C. Hinson, principal of Turie T. Elementary. “We’re in a big competition with a lot of things our kids encounter on a daily basis so we need to put the message out there and make sure they’re seeing it, they’re hearing it and reading it. There are people out here that they can see are successful. We want our kids to be successful so we’re sending that message loud and clear.”
Men standing for action
B-CU co-sponsored the event and has a longstanding reputation for investing in the futures of males destined to become both scholars and fathers. The dividends will include generations of new leaders like Jackson and his peers who remain a hand shake away and willing to encourage.
Cary White is a B-CU graduate student who donned a business suit and pinstriped tie with the added accent of his Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity pin. His presence and words spoke volumes:
“We’re welcoming students out here and wishing them a good school year and showing them how to dress and how to be professional for the future,” shared White, who added the valuable cliché’ “Knowledge is power.”
To better prepare fathers for future marches to come, B-CU also hosts the Teen and Young Fatherhood Conference. The third annual event was held in February and addressed issues that face fathers ages 14 to 24 and included speakers and life-changing workshops that focused on innovative teen fathers’ programming, proven parenting techniques and unique obstacles that teenager fathers face in education, legal issues, mental health and identifying employment resources.
“When the younger students come up to these young college males, they see hope,” offered Russell.
“They see that they can finish the race, and they can move forward in their education and that’s the key. This (event) was really a good picture of what can happen.”