Back to School
On a recent Saturday we participated in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools “Back to School Bash” along with hundreds of community family members. There were games and activities for the children. There was a free lunch of hotdogs and pizza for the everyone. There was entertainment. A national sorority sponsored the giveaway of school supplies. We talked to interested men about Be There Dad. It was the annual celebration of a new beginning.
Male Empowerment Network
During the event, the school system officially introduced the Male Empowerment Network [MEN], an initiative designed to promote the engagement of men in the lives of its students. CMS has established MEN because it believes the presence of men will have a positive impact on students’ lives. They know that when dads are present children perform better academically; are less likely to engage in criminal activity; are healthier; are better able to resolve conflicts and are more likely to become financially independent.
MEN is a movement of transformation. It will provide broad involvement of men as has not been done before. The vision of MEN is to train and position men as mentors accessible to all children across the district. There will be mentors among the schools’ faculty who work to improve the attendance of students and their attention to their schoolwork. There will be mentors in the communities surrounding the schools working to improve the environment and attitudes with the hopes of encouraging students to prosper in school. Other mentors will interact with older students to assist them in deciding on and preparing for the paths they will pursue when they graduate from CMS high schools. The network is designed to make mentors accessible to all students…. regardless of location, grade, academic standing, gender, race or economic status. So, all students might benefit. The mentors may emerge early in the educational journey and others may follow the students through graduation.
Be There Dad as a Pillar
Be There Dad has been designated as a pillar of the initiative and assigned to assist in the creation of dads groups. Consistent with our mission, we will help establish places where dads can come together and be present. The dads groups will welcome all men who are willing. The power of presence will be the foundation of the groups. Mentoring children towards their individual purpose will be the objective. Encouragement will fuel the effort.
After a full day at the kickoff event, I relaxed and watched a PBS documentary about Freedom Songs – the music that accompanied and inspired the civil rights movement in the fifties, sixties, and seventies. Songs like People Get Ready.
The powerful lyrics of People Get Ready signaled the opportunity for everyone to join and do their part:
People get ready, there’s a train comin’
Don’t need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesel hummin’
Don’t need no ticket, just thank the Lord…
So, people get ready, there’s a train comin’
The country was at a crossroads and status quo was not an option. People were motivated to give their time, money and often their lives to see the change come to be. Those powerful songs inspired the people and helped them visualize their dreams – a train carrying them all to a better place. A key to the success was to have “everyone” get on board. While the change would impact those who sang, those who were parents could see the impact the changes would have on their children. The analogy seems obvious – Men can be united by the Male Empowerment Network and stirred to action. And similarly, the call is for everyone to get on board.
Challenges of Today
Presence in the schools will allow men to help children with their academics – reading and math- so they will have the tools for success in their futures. But that same presence allows dads to help shape what that future may look like when the students attempt to put those tools to work. Our communities are grappling with the challenges of partisanship, tribalism, civility, intolerance, violence, homelessness and economic disparities. Our children are trying to learn in an environment filled with those complications. We are at another crossroads on the same journey. It is our time to step up and confront the complications of this time, by being present and helping our children pursue a brighter future.
As Many As Possible
CMS envisions all its students moving down a track to a better place, with each child traveling to their own unique destination. MEN is an invitation to join. Dads can share that vision. Dads can take example from those courageous civil rights warriors who went before us. With humility, yet passion for our purpose, we can move down the track together. Like those other believers, we need as many dads as possible to join with us. We need courage and perseverance to continue the journey. We need men who are willing to cross the bridge to the future.
Fortunately, using our Be There Dad groups, we can create spaces where those many dads and dlps can show up and spread their presence. They can become role models. They can show students how to interact with others. They can provide “social capital” to those who need it. Perhaps if dads can help kids address the other challenges, those students will be able to better focus on their academics; then use those tools when they become the leaders that carry the vision into the future. Be There Dad has the structure and resources to help men start dads groups. If dads will reach out to us, we will help them get started. We can get dads from all corners of the community involved. In this post pandemic era when groups are “re-starting,” there is an opportunity to be innovative as well. Hope is alive and the time is now.
Getting “On Board”
I am hoping that dads will recognize their responsibility to our children. I am hoping that dads will find time and energy to devote to them. I am hoping that dads will have the courage to become a part of MEN. I am hoping that dads will hear the chorus that CMS is creating, so we can all sing the same song of engagement. The Male Empowerment Network is a train that has started down the track. There is a seat for every dad who chooses to get on board. There is a destination for each child.
Dads “don’t need no baggage, …don’t need no ticket….just get on board.”