LOS ANGELES, CA-Bethune Middle School Principal Dr. Gail Garrett knew she was on to something when she thought of an idea to get more men on her campus at the South Los Angeles middle school. Male role models to emulate can be scarce in this part of town. When it comes to education, that equation becomes even murkier.
According to the website areavibes.com, South Los Angeles has a crime rate that is 45 percent higher than the national average. Then when you consider the number of single-parent households in the area, the onus to find ways to have men give back to their community can be a challenge. Men putting in the work to volunteer their time on school campuses is something that Garrett want her students to get accustomed to.
The longtime educator may have hit a nerve button to get things moving in that direction through the national “Million Father March” campaign. Garrett is an ardent proponent of having the presence of men walking on the school grounds increase at Bethune. The goal of the “Million Father March,” which was created by the Black Star Project in 2004, is to foster a year-long commitment from men in children’s education, from the first day of school.
The countrywide initiative is particularly aimed at drawing black men out to assist schools in their respective communities with their time. On Tuesday, Aug. 15, nearly five dozen men, from all walks of life and professions, took time out of their schedule to take part in the Bethune Middle School version of the “Million Father March,” as Garrett and her staff welcomed students on the first day of school.
“Today was awesome,” Garrett said. “It was such a phenomenal experience, not only for me, but I think for the men that participated, for the children that was there that was received, and just for the community at large. How it initially started…I’ve always wanted to do my dads-and have donuts with dads or something. So, we had already started to invite men to come in and encouraged our children to come. Then I received the flyer about the black men march-the Million Father March, and I say, ‘Hey, what a better way to go.’ Because of that, we started that. But today will not be the last day. It’s only the beginning. Some of my fathers started helping me with ‘Hands Around Bethune.’ So, I said ‘let’s do it bigger and better this year, but not for me, for my babies.’ They really need to see my men, that men care, how men are supposed to act.”
Darvell Williams, who works for New York Life, said it is urgently important for men to be at the education table for young people.
“We are the backbone of the community and we need to be more of a presence with our kids and in the community,” Williams said. “There are a lot of negative stereotypes and a lot of negative images of us, but they need to see some positive images. These kids need to see positive men of African descent that can come in and welcome them into school so that they’ll have some encouragement throughout the day, throughout the year.”
The group of me included many from the business sector. There was also a good presence of spiritual leaders who decided to take part in the early-hour event. Rev. Douglas Nelson, a minister at McCoy Baptist Church in Los Angeles, echoed Williams thoughts about the importance of men being in place for students.
“One, we wanted to support the leadership of this school and Dr. Gail Garrett,” Nelson said. “Two, we want to support the students of the school, and three, we want it to be said that whenever there was an opportunity to stand with the children and let them know we support their efforts to be educated, that we line the streets to support them. While folks are lining the streets to support other things in Charlottesville (Virginia) to pull down racist symbols, and even to battle racist symbols, we want it to be said that African American men, Latino men, all minorities stood together in solidarity to support our students and our children as they look to educate themselves and get the education they could to better themselves in this world.”
Keith Parker, a member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity, said the visibility of men in the classroom or on school campuses gives students another voice to learn from.
“It’s important to show kids to see people who look like them supporting and caring about their education, and to let them know we’ve got their backs,” Parker said. “When I was growing up, you had men in the schools, so you learned the discipline from the men in the schools. When you’re in the classroom with a man, it’s a little different how you handle yourself, especially if you’re a young man.”