A bright, breezy southern morning ushered in the inaugural Clayton County Fatherhood Conference, which convened about 50 attendees on Saturday, April 17th at the Charles Drew High School. The event, under direction of Jesse Hill, CEO of Shoot the Hoop, opened with little fanfare, but brought together an impressive and comprehensive mix of social service professionals to consider what's working among the Public, community, and entrepreneurial stakeholders, working the issue of responsible fatherhood in and around Atlanta, who were represented.
The conference theme was "Moving Father and Family from Liability to Asset." It showcased a diverse panel of speakers, each taking a few minutes to frame the conference topics for small group dialogue. Speakers included Mr. Kevin Young, Male Health Coordinator for the Clayton County Department of Health, Dr. Regina Clark, Assistant Director for the University System of Georgia African American Male Initiative, Mr. Henry Joyner, MSA, a 20 year veteran educator, Mr. Joe White representing the Clark Atlanta University Environmental Justice Resource Center, and three local Pastors, Prince Owens (Spivey Community Church), Franklin Battle (Upper Room Church), and Michael Winfree (Lion of Judah Faith Church). Veteran fatherhood advocate and activist in Georgia, Bob Johnson was also in attendance, but unable to participate on the panel. The conference topics around which attendees discussed issues and solutions while they networked were Health, Education, Employment, Spirituality /Morale, and Public Policy.
Congressman David Scott delivered a compelling and inspiring keynote address calling everyone in attendance to personally take up the cause of fatherhood. Referencing Langston Hughes’ Mother to Son, he acknowledged to attendees that throughout history in this nation, life for the black community ‘ain’t been no crystal stair.’ Nonetheless, the difficult, the insurmountable, the impossible has been overcome before, with unity of purpose and commitment--starting within the faith community. “This [raising up responsible fathers] is God’s work,” Scott said, and "has to be done His way -- without fear.”
Some speakers highlighted practical solutions to reach and support fathers in the community while ensuring the success of at-risk young black males in particular, while others provided dialogue launching points in the short time they had to frame the ensuing discussions. Specifically, Mr. Joyner shared some dated, yet thought provoking and relevant words by Dr. Mark Woodhouse, (former Associate Professor of Philosophy at Georgia State University), from his work Paradigm Wars, regarding the failure of American fact-oriented educational systems. In the late 1980s into the ‘90s Dr. Woodhouse observed that we were poorly preparing a generation of students who would be called upon not to identify or recite information accurately, but engage in complex problem solving in the very skill-oriented workplaces of the 21st century. Joyner vicariously made the argument that we've widened the gap that distanced young Americans from the jobs of the future (i.e., today). Pastors Owens, Battle, and Winfree spoke passionately and eloquently to the heart of the matter: supportively reconnecting fathers to their families, regardless of the form those families take, and ensuring quality and quantity time is taken to shape and guide young lives to achieve future success.
Following lunch, provided by the Chick-fil-A Dwarf House in Jonesboro, attendees entered break-out sessions to exchange ideas and information on working strategies and initiate networking to extend the conversation to practical follow up. The shared passion for this most crucial of social issues in our day was evidenced by the engaging dialogue that continued all around the room well after the conference ended. As Jesse Hill reiterated in adjourning the group, “This is just the first of these sessions. Next we take what we’ve talked about today and put it into action.”
To find out more about what you may have missed or learn how you can get involved, please roll up your sleeves and visit http://www.shootthehoop.org or call Jesse Hill at 770.892.3332 or 678.791.9892 for more information.