Fathers and dads aren’t always the same person.
Recognizing this and understanding that students living without a dad are at greater risk of major life challenges than those who grow up with a father at home, Witherite Law Group and Fort Worth ISD Family Action Center have partnered to sponsor the Dads of Dunbar Mentoring program at Dunbar High School.
Dunbar High School is located in the Stop Six neighborhood of Fort Worth, a majority African American community with many low- or moderate-income residents and a higher-than-average unemployment rate. Some students living and attending school there face a number of economic challenges, including living in fatherless homes.
“There is no manual about how to be an involved dad,” said Sabrina Charleston, Family Communications Specialist at Dunbar. “The vision was to create a platform for fathers to be connected with our students. If there is not a biological father, there would be a positive male figure who could build that connection with the students.”
Dads of Dunbar began in 2016 and meets at the school on the second Friday of each month around 7:30 a.m. The program is the brainchild of former Dunbar Principal SaJade Miller.
“There was a desire for parents to be there for their children, but it was mostly women,” Charleston said.
The purpose of the Dads of Dunbar program is to offset challenges by offering positive reinforcement and providing the support often provided by a father. Over the past five years, this engagement has positively impacted the lives of numerous children. Some have even returned to the campus to give back their time to other students.
“Dads of Dunbar is a bridge to keep fathers involved to support in the educational process of our children other than sports,” said volunteer Stephen Muhammad.
During each session, the community dads and students eat breakfast together and listen to a guest speaker discussing a topic relevant to the needs of the students. Topics include tying a tie, entrepreneurship, using carpentry tools, applying for jobs and interviewing, as well as life lessons after graduating high school and preparing for college.
At one recent gathering, former professional football player Ashton Lampkin, a Dunbar graduate, was the speaker.
After breakfast, the dads move into the foyer or onto the high school lawn to greet all students as they enter the building. This interaction can help set the tone for a positive day and ultimately set students up for success.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 18.4 million fatherless children in America. Consequently, there is a father factor in nearly all social ills facing America today, experts say.
“You never know what these students have been through the night before,” said volunteer Melvin Lee.
“Former Principal Miller found that a lot of our community members, or a lot of our stand-in fathers, are already connected to many of these kids,” Charleston said. “Kids are saying things like, ‘I didn’t know you were here. What are you doing here, Mr. So and So?'”
Charleston added that students will see someone from a nearby church, police officers, pastors, even the UPS guy and the mailman, and are responding with comments such as, ‘Wow, you are here for me.'”
Nicholas Smith, with Witherite, is a dad volunteer who grew up in the same neighborhood as the students the program is helping. He is personally vested in the Dads of Dunbar, and he said mentoring students to prepare for the future is something he does not take lightly.
“These students just want to be successful, and I believe that they will be the seeds that create a better tomorrow,” Smith said.
“We have supported programs at Dunbar High School for many years and the Dads of Dunbar is an exceptional program,” said Amy Witherite, founder of Witherite Law Group. “Men come from all over the community to support the kids and it truly makes a difference.”
“Investing in our youth is one of the smartest decisions we can make to preserve their future and break patterns and behaviors that have negatively impacted their lives,” she said. “Dads of Dunbar is exactly the program to offer students the support they need to better position them for success, and we’re thrilled to be part of it.”