Long before he ever became a parent Anthony King learned important lessons about fatherhood.
Raised by a single mother in the segregation-era South, he didn’t meet his dad until he turned 15 years old.
“Growing up in Mississippi at the time, family was big,” says King. “Everybody had permission to whip your tail if they found out you were doing something wrong.”
But, while he was mentored by an uncle and older cousins, no one he called “daddy” was there to teach him hunting or how to fasten a neck tie. There was no paternal guide to remind him he was just as good as anybody, despite “no colored allowed” restaurant signs.
Today, as both a father and president of Detroit Area Dads PTA, King helps fill a similar gap he sees in other young lives. A non-profit mentoring and community awareness program, Detroit Area Dads’ (DAD) mission is encouraging fathers to be actively involved with their children. By promoting educational discussions and neighborhood forums DAD raises the banner for men to answer its call.
“We want to empower and engage fathers and their families, and also to celebrate those single fathers who are raising children alone,” says King. “They’re that quiet group you don’t hear much about.”
After finally meeting his father King hoped they could develop a relationship, but his favorite aunt sadly revealed it wasn’t to be.
“I used to ask her if she talked to Peter. That’s my father’s name,” King recalled. “And I would ask her if he asked about me and she would say no. So I stopped asking about him.”
But instead of growing bitter and resentful, he grew to see his absent dad as a source of inspiration to mold himself into a good parent. King got involved with his first daughter’s activities while she was in elementary school and he eventually became PTA president.
DAD, a volunteer-driven effort, evolved from meetings at the Mathis Community Center and events like a 2013 roundtable discussion at Pershing High School, which attracted 60 men. In 2014 DAD gave holiday turkeys, canned goods, and $100 gift certificates to single fathers of Vernor Elementary students, and hosted 400 guests at a Northwestern High “Dads Forum” the same year. The most recent forum at Western International High was held in June.
By including workshops, panel discussions, and free health screenings DAD events appeal to men in the broader neighborhood, King says.
“Being a community group, we can work with anyone, anywhere” regardless of school affiliation, he adds.
Among DAD collaborators have been the U.S. Department of Education, Detroit Public Schools, and the Educational Achievement Authority. Using out-of-pocket cash and their personal dedication to support the organization, volunteers like George Camacho often hunt new resources and donations, such as free Detroit Pistons tickets to offer fathers who join their program.
“As a father, I’m a strong believer that you have to be involved with your children,” says Camacho, DAD vice president.
Camacho’s children range in age from 12 to 29, including a college student who struggles with muscular dystrophy, but is Camacho’s “hero” because of his determination.
In addition to DAD, Camacho works as a dropout prevention specialist with 16- to 20-year-old young men at Detroit’s Covenant House, where he often personally mentors the youth.
“I share with them that life is short and they have to take advantage of it,” he says. “They can use me as a sounding board if I have any answers to questions they need answered.”
King says he sees DAD having an impact on young people’s lives, but its crusade is about influencing more fathers to do the organization’s work directly.
Memories of the man he called “Peter,” who he barely got to know, continue inspiring him to reach out.
“I tell people this is something, and I don’t want to sound religious,” King says, “but this is something God gave me to do.”
You can reach DAD at DetroitAreaDadsPTA@yahoo.com or DetroitAreaDadsPTA@gmail.com. To learn more go to http://www.learningfirst.org/dads-pta-helps-build-engagement-skills#sthash.BULZxpK6.dpuf