A new school year is beginning in the United States. This year thousands of fathers decided to escort their children to class to show their support and encouragement. They have become part of the Million Father March.
"The first day of school is probably the most exciting day of the school year for parents and students," says Donald Watson. Mr. Watson says because of this, he decided to accompany his 11-year-old daughter to her elementary school. "We both got up very early that day without any alarm clock," he adds. "We got dressed, got in the car and started to drive and talk, was she nervous? was she excited? that sort of thing,"
This trip on the first day of school, Mr. Watson says, brought him and his daughter closer together. He says taking two hours off from work just to take her to school made his daughter realize just how important she was to him. "Kids appreciate that. There is nothing like a parent being in school just because you want to be there. It's an investment. When a father starts this process, you start to build a tradition, because when the child has kids, they would do the same thing for their kids -- they'll go to school on the first day."
Donald Watson says he is proud to be part of the Million Father March campaign. It was first organized last year by a black family-advocacy group called the Black Star Project. Phillip Jackson is its spokesman. "In certain countries in South America, on the last day of school, men from the cities and towns go up to the schools to thank the teachers for educating their children that previous year," he says. "We said we want to do something like that. But instead of the last day of school, we organized it on the first day of school."
Mr. Jackson says that in its second year, the Million Father March has expanded. "We were in about 25 cities across the country and we think that between 40,000 and 50,000 men took their children to school last year," he says. "This year, as of today, we are in 81 cities across the country. Aukland, New Zealand, is our only international entry. This year, we're expecting anywhere between 200,000 to 300,000 fathers to be taking their children to school."
Although its message is primarily targeted at African-American and Hispanic dads, Mr. Jackson says anyone can be part of the Million Father March. "This Million Father March is for men of all races," he says. "It doesn't even have to be the biological father. It can be a surrogate father, an uncle, an older brother. It's for women. It's for everybody who wants to see a child educated. We are not excluding mothers. What we're saying, though, is that when mothers and fathers work together as a team they can accomplish so much more in terms of educating their children."
The gesture of going to school on that one day symbolizes their involvement in their kids' educational life… and that, Mr. Jackson says, empowers the children, the fathers and the schools.
"The children," he says, "are so proud and they are so inspired when the see hundreds of men at their school cheering them on, just like they were basketball stars or soccer stars. The men are excited because they realize that they can play an important role in educating their children. They are setting goals, raising standards and they are supporting their children. The schools are really the big beneficiaries. Whenever parents get involved, schools are getting great results. All the good things go up and the bad behaviors go down. And schools are accomplishing their objectives."
Abeo Anderson, coordinator of the Million Father March in Washington DC, agrees.
"A lot of the Washington D.C. schools welcomed it," she says. "It was also reinforcing to see parents come out and show their support." And, she says, it's not a one school-day event. The campaign will continue in different ways throughout the school year. "We're also planning follow-up workshops for fathers in conjunction with the D.C. Fatherhood Initiative," she says. "There will be future events focusing on kids and the child-father relationship."
Black Star Project's Phillip Jackson encourages fathers and educators around the world to join the campaign. "In Europe, Africa, Asia," he says, "if any one wants to contact us, they can simply look us up on our web site, http://blackstarproject.org, or they can come to us by e-mail, email@example.com They can very easily get into the program. There is even still time this year for countries all over the world to get into the program."
This march to escort children to their schools might involve just a few steps. But Phillip Jackson, Abeo Anderson and others involved in the campaign say they might be the most significant steps fathers can take to show their children the road to success in school and life.