Recently I joined hundreds of fathers and male mentors at my daughter’s school for their annual “
Dads Walk Your Child to School Day.” As I looked around at the dads, uncles, big brothers, stepfathers, grandfathers and male mentors standing in the courtyard of
KIPP THRIVE Academy, I wasn’t surprised at the turnout. There is a stereotype that African-American men, and especially Black men in Newark, aren’t present in their kids’ lives, but that hasn’t been my experience at all. I have a large network of friends from all walks of life and, by and large, they are there for their children whether they live in the same home or not. To be honest, I never paid much attention to fathers until I became one. And, based on my own experience growing up in Newark, going to school was just automatic. You walked to school; you walked home, and that was it. At my daughter’s school, [pullquote position="left"]the environment has always been inclusive. I’ve been welcomed any time of day, and they are always open to feedback—good and bad. Everyone on the school team is accessible day or night, and this day was another example of how sincere they are about being a community school. As a father, you want to put your child in the best situation no matter what. At home I teach my kids, “I am giving you the best I can as a father. When you’re a parent, you’ll give the best you can.” And what stood out to me at the “Dads Walk Your Child to School Day” event was: Here is a community of men that are involved. We wanted to show solidarity and support and tell the school and our community that we care; we’re here when you need us. In that, I saw a lot of hope for our kids. Standing together were men in suits, some in uniforms, some in street clothes, and what we all had in common was the knowledge we can be models for these students. The kids may not remember that day specifically, but they will remember the hope they experienced. For the students to see that—especially with what is currently going on across America—is positive and powerful. That day they saw a large representation of men engaged and involved and that we’re not the stereotype you see on the news of the Black man running from the police. Another thing I saw was the potential for further engagement. We need to be there for all children, not just our own. I recognize the power we have as a group to help shape our schools and community. For me, this event was not just about showing up for my daughter on one day, but every day and for every kid. We have a voice and the opportunity to create change and a better future for our children.
Photo of Dexter Williams and his daughter.
Dexter Williams is the parent of four daughters, a Newark native and a parent advocate. His oldest daughter was a founding member of KIPP TEAM Academy in Newark, New Jersey, and his two other daughters attend KIPP New Jersey schools.