(This story appeared in the July 16th edition of the Houston Chronicle.)

Several hundred black fathers gathered at Houston’s MacGregor Park on Sunday to shatter stereotypes that they are just “deadbeats” or “sperm donors” and to encourage, rather than shame, those needing to do a better job.

Project Forward community activist Deric Muhammadsaid he pushed for a “Day of Encouragement” for fathers on Sunday because “beating down dads” won’t fix the problem. The community needs to come together to erase the long-running stigma against the black father, he added.

Supporters cited a recent federal survey that found black fathers are just as involved with their children as other dads. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study looked at fathers of infants to teenagers over a four-year period and determined black fathers spend as much time, if not more, bathing, dressing, reading and talking to their children, as fathers of other races.

This statistic held true for fathers who lived in the homes with their children as well as fathers who live apart from their children.

Experts note, however, that 67 percent of black families have absentee fathers – compared to 42 percent of Hispanic families, 25 percent of white families and 17 percent of Asian families. The higher percentage of missing dads creabdb47a4bbb3389845ef07c14b935cb182bf432c8tes a disparity that could drag down the black father’s influ
ence in their family, they added.

In the black community, Mother’s Day celebrations can almost rival Christmas, with restaurants filled to overflowing and flower shops buzzing, but when Father’s Day rolls around, it’s just glossed over, Muhammad said.

Most of the reaction in the black community to Sunday’s event was positive, he said, but there was a small percentage who wanted the organization to come down hard on fathers who fail to pay child support.

He said speakers that day had not overlooked that issue when they stressed what he called the “4 e’s” of child support that go beyond finances to include education, encouragement, emotions and economics.

“I know what it’s like to have no father to guide me, having to figure out so much on my own,” he said. “That’s why I organized this. It comes from my heart.”

Muhammad said he did not know his biological father until age eight and that tenuous connection ended a couple of years later when his father was killed in a motorcycle accident. His mother also battled her own demons with a drug addiction.

Now he has three daughters of his own and is passionate about helping fathers become the best parents that they can be.

“My dad plays a huge role in my life,” agreed his 11-year-old, Najah, as she munched on a snow cone. “He takes care of me and makes sure I’m safe.”

10390180_10202979107931806_1164709958533118612_nTo help fathers who might not have the financial resources to celebrate this holiday with their children, the park event included everything from inflated bounce houses to father-son basketball games for entertainment.

Mentoring can also be the answer for those without fathers in their lives, said Bruce Jackson, who was helping young boys at the event build racecars with piston engines. “I have a track in my backyard where they can make a lot of noise and race fast. They also learn some mechanics on the way,” he said

About Deric Muhammad

Deric Muhammad believes that man is given power for one reason; and that is to serve others. Muhammad is an accomplished Houston-based Activist/Organizer who addresses issues on Social Justice, Black Male Development, Police Brutality, Racial Inequality and other critical topics. Muhammad prides himself in being an “on the ground watchman” of Freedom, Justice and Equality for the Black community and other poor, underserved, disenfranchised communities, as well. A native Houstonian, Deric grew up on the rough and tumble streets of Northeast Houston. At the age of 11 his father died and his mother struggled with an addiction to drugs that she, later in life, overcame. Deric was raised in an environment where drugs, gang violence, prostitution, police brutality and other “social cancers” were prominent. This is important to know, because it verifies that Muhammad addresses these issues based on vast knowledge and personal experience. Like countless Black men who came before him, he changed his life around through his studies as a member of the Nation of Islam. Muhammad hosts an annual “Smart’n Up” Black Male Summit that deals with the unique issues that Black men and boys face in society. In 2009 he independently produced and starred in a critically acclaimed documentary called “Raising Boys: Tips for Single Moms” that addressed the plight of Black women raising sons in the absence of a father. He recently launched a Houston-based Black Male Initiative called Project FORWARD that focuses on Stopping Inner-City Violence and creating Economic Development. His writings have been published in many newspapers and he is currently working on his first self-published book. Muhammad has been, for years, seen on local and national television stations addressing the tough issues faced by Black people in America. He says that he is unashamed of his love for Black people and thanks God every day for giving him the honor of serving his community.

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