When she isn’t drawing pretty pictures or reading her favorite books at school, 5-year-old Lyric Croom helps her father wash cars and cut neighborhood lawns.
At age 30, Lamott Croom has amassed more than $200,000 in student-loan debt after graduating with a master’s degree in business management from St. Thomas University a few years back. When school’s out, he often takes his daughters to his jobs as a gig laborer and entrepreneur.
“I cut lawns, we wash cars, we make T-shirts,” Croom, an Opa-locka native living in North Miami, said in an interview Friday. “Whatever the hustle is for me to get it, I just focus on getting that. And it’s been tough as an entrepreneur and what I call a full-time father.”
He operates three businesses: Flash n Splash Detailing, Power Money Family and Flash Prints.
But for him, being a father has always come before money. As a product of a split household, Croom has dedicated himself to being as involved in his children’s lives as possible. He volunteers his time reading at Nathan B. Young Elementary in Opa-locka, where Lyric and 3-year-old Londyn Croom go to school. Lyric is in kindergarten and Londyn is in pre-kindergarten.
“He works all day. He picks me up at school. We work and play together,” Lyric said.
To Holly Zwerling, president and CEO of Fatherhood Task Force of South Florida — where Croom volunteers — Croom’s commitment to his kids and others in the community is an inspiration to other young men who may be struggling to stay in their children’s lives amid life’s stresses and obligations.
“He’s really a role model for the younger men,” said Zwerling, a licensed marriage and family therapist and clinical social worker. “They follow him, they watch how he is with the kids. It’s very powerful, because a lot of these young men don’t have a father figure.”
The Task Force, which promotes increasing the involvement of fathers in Miami-Dade County through reading sessions and mentorship initiatives, partners with Miami-Dade Public Schools to host an annual Fathers in Education Day. In May, thousands of fathers participated at 233 schools.
“I am what they call a neighborhood dad,” Croom said. “We are a part of a community of brotherhood. We go to these schools and we read to these children.”
Zwerling, a spirited advocate for families, said her organization also offers individualized services to fathers who need anything from a ride to legal help.
“We are where we’re needed,” she said. “When I get a phone call from a father that says, ‘I’m having difficulty in the court system,’ we make referrals so that their voice can be heard. We don’t want fathers to give up.”
After a tough day cobbling together enough for rent, Croom says, he finds comfort in putting his kids to sleep and knowing why he keeps grinding away.
“I only control the things that I can control,” he said. “You’re born in the world with bills, you’re gonna die with bills. At the end of the day, of course I have to get money, so the stress level can be high, but like I said, my faith is there and willing me that every month the rent gets taken care of.”
For Antwayne Leland, 39, also of Opa-locka, his duty as a father spans the traditional bounds of paternity.
When his adoptive son, 7-year-old Elias Turner, came into his life through a friend when he was just 4 months old, Leland jumped at the opportunity to bring him in and care for him financially. Elias knows his biological parents, but his father isn’t around much and his mother can’t support him alone.
So Leland took it upon himself to raise Elias.
“It’s always been me and him,” he said. “First birthdays, his first graduation and everything. He’s been my motivation, my inspiration.”
Leland, whose father was largely absent when he was growing up, said his upbringing motivated him to help others whenever possible.
“It’s an unconditional love and a bond,” he said. “I love the responsibility. I don’t complain about it, and I don’t like anyone that tells me that I shouldn’t do what I’m doing.”
A volunteer with the Fatherhood Task Force, Leland was chosen in January 2018 as the organization’s “most valuable father” for his consistent volunteering efforts at the school. A bilateral amputee diagnosed with diabetes, Leland teaches students at Nathan B. Young about the struggles of living with the illness and persevering.
Elias attended Nathan B. Young from Head Start through first grade. He is currently being home schooled. He likes to beat his dad in video games, like “Call of Duty” — although Leland argues he allows Elias to win.
“I just fell in love with the kids, and I fell in love with the organization and program that Ms. Holly presented to me,” Leland said. “These kids are my inspiration. I love coming and being around them, and just giving them my time.”
Nathan B. Young Principal Tonya Dillard said it’s “invaluable” to have fathers supporting their children and other young kids at the school. One of the fathers in the Task Force painted a colorful mural outside the front door of the school.
“They become role models for so many other children here at Nathan B. Young who don’t have a father in their life,” she said. “And so they have really become an integral part of our school.”