Joined by elected officials, community activists and families from all over southeastern Queens, the Real Dads Network kicked off Black Fathers Week on Monday night with a joyous celebration at York College.
It was an evening of inspirational speeches, awards, music, spoken word poetry and more — all designed to honor black men who take responsibility and give their children a good, stable home life so they can succeed themselves.
“It is simply to celebrate and support fathers, to celebrate their positive impact on young people,” said state Assemblyman Bill Scarborough, who is honorary chairman of the Million Fathers Club and presented students with awards for essays they wrote on why their fathers deserve recognition. “It’s important for our children, it’s important for our community that children have fathers in their lives.”
Derek Phillips, who founded and heads the Real Dads Network, said that showcasing men who have a positive impact on their children’s lives is also inspirational to those who have not fulfilled their responsibilities, to help them turn things around.
“For me it’s very important for us black men, black fathers, to reach back and help those who may not have a father, or who do but have lost their way,” he told the audience of more than 200 people. “There are a lot of black fathers out there doinig the right thing. We have to focus on the positive.”
Scarborough, who chairs the Assembly Committee on Children and Families, said that broken families are at the root of many social ills.
“It’s becoming clear to me that there’s a clear correlation between not having a father in your life and some of the worst problems that we have,” he said. “That’s not to say they don’t need their mothers too — they’ve been doing the yeoman’s work while we haven’t been home.”
Many of the community’s leaders and some great performers were there to show their support to the men and their families.
The Rev. Edward Davis, pastor of the Presbyterian Church of St. Albans, led off the event with a prayer. Faityn Muhammad, producer of KISS FM’s Open Line and the Rev. Al Sharpton’s Hour of Power, was the evening’s emcee.
Students from Bronx-based Renaissance Education, Music and Sports provided the sound, along with Najiyah Threatt, a Manhattan teenager who sang a stunning rendition of “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” Krall “Kayo” Charles delivered a powerful spoken word performance that had Scarborough and many others in the crowd banging their feet on the floor.
Representatives of the J-CAP residential substance abuse treatment program in Jamaica were there because many fathers being helped by the Real Dads Network are being treated at the facility.
Cosponsors of the event included the York College Male Initiative Program, United Black Men of Queens and the St. Albans-based Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.
One of the most compelling parts of the evening was the series of readings the children gave of their One in a Million essays. Those were inspirational, though some mixed humor into their work as well. They told anecdotes about what makes their fathers special, ranging from helping out with school work to following the bus to make sure youngsters get to class safely. But the focus was always on the men making the time to spend with their children.
“Since I’ve known my father, I don’t think I’ve ever had a lunch or dinner without him,” Rida Fatima said of her father, Syed Zaidi. The family lives in Jamaica.
“My dad will always be more heroic than Superman,” Imani Francis said of her father, Woodley. Her sister, Ayanna, also read an essay. The Francises live in Rosedale.
Black Fathers Week continued with events in other boroughs Tuesday and Wednesday, and will wrap up Friday in Harlem. For more information, go online to realdadsnetwork.com or call Scarborough’s office in Jamaica at (718) 723-5412.