Spread Project Fatherhood to more of America’s toughest communities

If you don’t have the experience of growing up with a father involved in your life, what do you draw on to be a good father and partner yourself — especially if your family is surrounded by some of the worst crime and poverty in the country?

As “Big” Mike Cummings, a former gang leader who’s now a community activist, explained to NPR, “Young men are hungry to learn how to be fathers, because they didn’t grow up with fathers. So they figure ‘I didn’t grow up with a father, I don’t know what to do.'”

A promising answer underway in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles is Project Fatherhood, which brings a group of fathers together every week to talk, share lessons, and help each other with advice and support. Based on a model for low-income urban fathers by the Los Angeles’ Children’s Institute, the Watts program is the creation of Dr. Jorja Leap, a professor at UCLA, and Big Mike.

It started in Watts more than six years ago as informal gatherings over free barbecue, with gift certificates as enticements they could use while eating and spending time with their kids. But its transformative potential was grounded in more than just food and chat; the program offered these men a new forum where they could open up, build a meaningful real-life social network, and get perspective beyond their own troubled personal histories.

project-fatherhood-jims-storyAs Yes! Magazine reported, Project Fatherhood has since expanded to offering professional services like job training and parenting classes. Because many of the participants had done time in prison, the initiative thus acts as a lifeline that connects the men to the broader economic and social lifeblood of their community as well as to their own children.

Due to the buzz around the success of Project Fatherhood, there’s growing interest in replicating the model beyond Los Angeles. Let’s hope they do.

For more information, see Project Fatherhood at the Children’s Institute; “Project Fatherhood: Uniting the Men of LA’s Toughest Communities,” Yes! Magazine; “‘Project Fatherhood’: In A Struggling Neighborhood, Dads Are Helping Dads,” NPR; Project Fatherhood’ Teaches Parenting Skills To Inner-City Dads,” NPR; and “Jorja Leap sheds light on Watts’ black fathers in ‘Project Fatherhood’,” Los Angeles Times.

Also check out these videos: “Families Uniting Families | Project: Fatherhood | JR’s Story,” by Change Agent Productions, and “Project Fatherhood Teaches Men Raised Without Dads To Be Fathers,” ABC7 News.