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Mentor windfall sparks discussion of fatherlessness

DALLAS (BP) — An unexpected deluge of volunteers in response to a Dallas middle school’s call for male mentors has sparked media attention. It also has generated discussion of the need for discipleship of African American boys, robbed of fathers by the lingering effects of slavery.

When Billy Earl Dade Middle School in Dallas scheduled a “Breakfast With Dads” event for the boys in its student body, a local Baptist pastor attempted to help, issuing a call via Facebook for volunteers to stand in with students whose fathers were absent from their lives or unable to attend. Though the school — which is predominantly African American — hoped for 50-100 volunteers, some 600 men showed up at the breakfast.

Donald Parish Jr., the pastor who called for volunteers, told USA Today Jan. 9, “We know that the majority of our students were not going to have dads present. Many students don’t have male figures around, or at least the kind who would show up for a school event like this.”

Male volunteers at the Dec. 14 event came from diverse backgrounds, The Dallas Morning News reported, and guided boys through a variety of activities, including a tutorial on tying a necktie. About 150 students have requested a mentor, Dade principal Tracie Washington said.

Terry Turner, a Dallas-area pastor who has written a book on African American marriages and families, told Baptist Press nearly 75 percent of black children in America live in homes without a father.

Turner, pastor of Mesquite (Texas) Friendship Baptist Church, said “the root” of fatherless homes among all races “is that people are no longer getting married. Marriage is at an all-time low in our society among all ethnicities, but [fatherlessness is] especially high among the African American community.”

One cause of broken homes among African Americans is that slavery “destroyed” blacks’ “cultural scripts for the roles of fathers and husbands” by removing men from slave families, Turner said, quoting the words of Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson. That heritage of fatherless homes persists into the 21st century, Turner noted.

In tandem with slavery’s damage to families, some black men seem to have accepted the racist stereotype that African American males are especially prone to sexual immorality, Turner said.

The lingering effects of slavery, segregation and racism on African American families are chronicled in Turner’s book “God’s Amazing Grace: Reconciling Four Centuries of African American Marriages and Families.”

Whatever the cause of broken homes, “in the end we are our brother’s keeper,” said Turner, a former president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. In light of that reality, Mesquite Friendship, a predominantly African American congregation, is “constantly working at” developing mentorship programs for young men.

Such programs can pose challenges at times because average men may not be equipped to confront the behavioral and psychological problems some boys face, Turner said. He also cited a need to organize the logistics of mentoring relationships so married men do not find themselves alone with single mothers of the boys they shepherd.

Yet those challenges must be overcome, he said, because social problems like broken homes can only be solved “through the power of love.”

“We’re dealing with a sin issue in our society,” Turner said, and teaching men to follow God’s plan for marriage and family is the only path forward.