by Kaila Heard
NNPA News Service
One of the most popular statistics about the black family that is currently being touted is how 72 percent of black children are being raised in a single-parent household. The prevailing assumption being that because of the lack of wedded couples, children from these unions are being raised without their fathers.
However, does the dearth of marriages in black communities mean that there is also an epidemic of missing, uninvolved fathers?
Recent research suggests that this is not necessarily the case, according to Dr. Waldo Johnson, a professor at the University of Chicago who studies the black family.
"One thing that we don't give young African-American fathers credit for is that even when they don't get married they are still more involved with their children than white and Latino fathers," Johnson said.
However, "It is certain across the board that there are perhaps far fewer fathers involved in their children's lives than ideally we would like it," he said.
One of the groups of fathers that may have the biggest uphill battle to be involved parents are young fathers, teens and young adults who become fathers when they are between the ages of 13 to 24 years old.
"For young African-American fathers, they are much less likely to get jobs, and for all fathers across the board, that is considered a very important part of being a father," Jackson explained.
An increasing awareness of the need to educate fathers about essential parenting and life skills has led to fatherhood supportive services, initiatives and classes being offered in local communities.
In Miami, the Fatherhood Task Force of South Florida, Inc. promotes the importance of fathers and advocates for "father-friendly" training, programs and even marketing.
"We're a hub for resources and we were developed to help and guide them because all fathers need some kind of guidance," said J. Phillip Tavernier, a founding member of the task force's board of directors.
Sheldon L. Smith, 23, founded Chicago's Dove Tail Project in 2010, when he noticed the lack of support for himself and other young fathers in his neighborhood.
"The first lesson of fatherhood that I learned was that fatherhood didn't come with a manual," said Smith, who became a single father when he was 20 years old. "Everything was really like a test pilot, I had to learn how do you hold the baby in your arms and how would I provide for her."
His experiences helped him develop the Dove Tail Project, a voluntary 12-week course where young fathers meet once a week to learn more about topics such as parenting, life skills and even job training. So far, the program has had 79 graduates.
Over the course of the two years that his program has been in operation, Smith has learned a profound lesson about black fathers.
"(What) I really learned from (my students) is that society has it wrong about African American fathers," he said. "It's not that they don't want to be fathers because we're lazy, it's because of our upbringing and not having our own fathers around."