Family holidays like Fourth of July, Father’s Day and Christmas can be full of unanswered questions, anger and hurt for youngsters without dads in their lives.
Year after year and generation after generation, it’s a never-ending cycle.
“In my 14 years of teaching, I have encountered and worked with at least 200-plus fatherless children,” said Samuel J. Wims Jr., a math and science teacher at Kelsey L. Pharr Elementary School in Miami. “That’s why I work hard and treat all of my students as if they are my children.”
As president of Miami-Dade County’s Neat Streets Miami, a maintenance and beautification initiative, and his homeowners association, Wims is one of many men in our community who’ve stepped up to be male role models for fatherless youngsters.
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“I feel that it is my calling to help students in urban schools,” Wims said. “I want to instill a love of learning in my students so that they will always have a desire to grow and develop.”
Encouraging his students to become role models through servicing their community, incorporating positive messages through mentorship, and being an active mentor in his school’s 5000 Role Models of Excellence program, which pairs boys and young men ages 9 to 19 with a male mentor in their community, are just a few ways that Wims pushes his students to succeed.
He is also a key part of the Fatherhood Task Force of South Florida, which encourages fathers to be involved in their childrens’ lives.
“For four years, we have changed the paradigm—the way schools view fathers,” said Holly Zwerling, founder of the task force.
Zwerling started the task force after noticing a trend from years of working as a family therapist: No one seemed to care about fathers.
“I have attended workshops and various conferences that talk about the role of mothers as parents, but what they aren’t recognizing is the fathers,” she said. “We need the voices that say ‘Hey, what about dads?’”
Zwerling and six dedicated fathers decided to be those voices by joining forces in 2010. With the financial help of the Children’s Trust, the Fatherhood Task Force of South Florida was born to serve fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and all male role models throughout Miami-Dade.
The task force is also an advocacy organization that aims to break common barriers, including the lack of paternal healthcare for fathers, educating local judges about being open to hearing the position of fathers in divorce or child custody battles, and increasing the conversation about the mental and physical health of fathers.
“Ten percent of fathers have post-partum depression, but only mother’s post-partum is discussed,” Zwerling said. “We need to show fathers and male role models alike that they are valuable and needed in the community…they need to feel good about themselves.”
In addition to hosting workshops and fatherhood groups, the task force celebrates fathers and male role models in May during Fathers in Action and Advocacy Week, which includes a celebratory breakfast to recognize local role models in various professions for their work with youth.
In addition to Wims, Miami-Dade Police Officer Edward Wade was one of the role models that was honored during this year’s breakfast, held at Kelsey L. Pharr Elementary.
As a father of an 18-year-old son and a 7-year-old daughter, the eight-year police officer aims to increase the dialogue between law enforcement and the youth.
“There is this idea of police officers that the youth has, that whenever they see an officer, it means someone is going to jail,” Wade said. “That’s just not the case.”
Wade and his team, the Community Oriented Policing unit, have visited Miami-Dade schools to share this message with students countywide, including Arcola Lake Elementary, Poinciana Park Elementary and Liberty City Elementary, as well as the Miami-Dade Juvenile Services Department.
“Some of the students I work with, or mentor have to deal with things that adults face,” Wade said. “I see some kids in the urban areas have to grow up so fast because they have to compensate for the lack of someone showing interest in them — showing that they care.”
Through real-life scenarios and homemade comedy, Wade drives home several lessons to his own children and the local youth: Find something you’re passionate about and create a career out of it, stick with like-minded individuals working to achieve similar goals, understand the laws and your rights, have an open mind and don’t react based on emotion.
He encourages youths, especially males, to be the person that they believe would make their father proud.
“Show that you are going to be carving your own way in the world, that you’re going to be somebody in life,” Wade said. “Instead of dwelling on the negative side ... look at the positive.”
BEING A ‘BIG BROTHER’
“The responsibility and self-esteem levels grow tremendously, especially for boys, when you know you have someone that will be there,” said Brian Person, a 21-year-mentor for Miami-Dade youth.
In addition to mentoring, Person is a care coordinator with North Dade Youth and Family Coalition, which assists families in the Miami Gardens area with family matters, housing situations, summer camps or academic tutoring. With his passion for helping young adults, he often visits students at Carol City High, Miami Norland High, Booker T. Washington High, Miami Northwestern High and Miami Central High schools.
Coming from a family of 14 siblings, 11 boys and three girls, and having two sons of his own ages 21 and 34, Person understands the value of having a male role model, or two.
“It’s a game-changer,” he said. “I know the value, that’s why I try to do as much as I can.”
Along with his community efforts to mentor students, Person hosts a radio show on WMBM-AM called “Brother to Brother.” This summer, they are planning to highlight old-school educators and some of the best and brightest students in our community.
Person”s “big brother” advice: “Younger boys are so shy to say something to a man, and I hold the adults responsible for that. When you see a man, don’t be afraid to acknowledge him — to say hello.”