Springfield Illinois

Task Force Targets African American Males in Springfield

Fatherhood one of the most important issues

September 22, 2008
by Greg Bishop

A town hall meeting held at South East High School Thursday, September 18, focused on the condition of African American Males in Illinois.

In attendance were state senators, state representatives, and African American community leaders.

With attendance at around 80 people, the task force held five different "round table" discussions. The topics for the talks were education, economic stability, health, criminal justice, and fatherhood.

Kamau Kemayo, associate professor and chair of African American Studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield says "when you look at males being sons, brothers, fathers, husbands, exedra, you know, they are unique and a challenge, you have to work on that."

At the round table discussion on fatherhood a dozen individuals talked about what the main issues concerning the African American Community are when it comes to being a dad.

With a steady flow of people traveling from one round table to the next, the moderator says "How do you get to the root of being a father?"

"We need the churches, schools, and programs to help us educate young men to be fathers. They need guidance," one man responds.

"Our values have eroded," another passionately stated. "But it takes a village."

Another participant of the round table discussion on fatherhood said "we fill the younger generations with fear. We tell them 'they are after you'. Who are 'they'?" he says. "Some parents tell their kids 'they' are white people."

Yet another gentleman said "There are still 40 and 50-year-olds hip-hoppin' and saggin'."

After a 15 minute discussion on the symptoms and problems facing fatherhood in the African American community, the moderator posed the question, "How much will you invest?"

"We need support from the system, but the system can't make better fathers," one participant said.

One of the only women in the group said after receiving an education, many people in the African American Community never return home. "Once we get our ABC's behind our names, we forget about the hood."

The round table discussion on fatherhood concluded the solution to the problem is to gathering a pool of models; fathers from churches, fathers from within the community, professional men, entrepreneurs and educated men, and there needs to be strategy and planning.

One important component to the plan was to have a concrete message that came from the same group, regardless of location. "Being a male is a matter of gender, being a man is a matter of maturity," one man says.

Letrice Ware, a University of Illinois student, stopped by the round table on fatherhood towards the end to mention a television program she is starting on cable channel Access 4 called "RAAW Words".

"RAAW stands for Real Ambition Afrikana Woman," Latrice said. She will moderate a group of African American youth from the Springfield Area, allowing them to have their voices heard on public access. "Look for it sometime in November."

"The outcome of the meeting itself is hopefully more of a starter or continuing a group effort," says Kimao Kamaou, who attended the town hall meeting. "To work toward the betterment of the condition and the situation of African American males and African American people in general" is something Kamaou says he brings to UIS everyday, being chair of African American Studies.

The town hall meeting in Springfield was the fourth in a series of meetings being held across the state as part of Senate Bill 0076. Legislation passed the general assembly to study the condition of African American Males in Illinois. A report combining findings from the series of town hall meetings is due to the General Assembly by the end of this year.

Allan Woodson, a member of the task force appointed by state senator Frank Watson, hopes the task force will set forth a set of tangible plans.

"We want to get beyond just having a study that people ultimately end up putting on the shelf," Woodson says. "We want to be sure they have something that we can really implement that's going to benefit the demographic, i.e. the African American males that we are trying to address."

But at the end of the day, Woodson believes it is the individual that is responsible for their own condition, not the state. "You know if you talk about something as basic as fatherhood, you can't blame that on anybody else, that's something for you to do. When you talk about getting a proper education, that's something you can do. Health education and making sure that you eat right and that you exercise, that's something you can do. You can't blame that on anyone else."

Greg Bishop hosts Saturday Session with Bishop on 970 WMAY and is a full time student at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

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