AUBURN GRESHAM — More than 200 men greeted Oglesby Elementary students on their first day of school Tuesday, offering the kids encouragement.
Men from The Nation of Islam and members of Trinity United Church of Christ were present, as well as from numerous other organizations. Black Star Project president Philip Jackson spearheaded the “Million Father March” at Oglesby, held for the first time at the school at 7646 S. Green St.
More than 100 men, mainly black, welcomed Oglesby students today pic.twitter.com/DWSftYhoFY— Andrea V. Watson (@AndreaVWatson12) September 6, 2016
The nationwide "Million Father March" movement is in its 13th year and in more than 600 cities.
“This is possibly the first time that all these children here have seen that powerful a group of men and it wasn’t a street gang,” Jackson said. “This is sending a strong message, not only to the boys, but to the young girls to say that’s what real men look like."
Describing Tuesday as "a very exciting day for us,” Jackson said the students are "going to start off the school year with encouragement, with support, and they’re going to start off knowing that the community wants them to learn."
[dnainfo/Andrea V. Watson]
Before the bell rang, the men huddled together outside of the school linking arms and holding hands to pray for the community and for the students and their safety.
As the children entered the building they were welcomed with cheers, claps, high-fives and handshakes. Men lined both sides of the three-floor stairwell.
Some parents didn’t know what was happening, but once school officials filled them in, many said they appreciated this kind of greeting for their children.
"It's a good thing," said Sabrina Carter, the mother of two girls. “The support is needed and this might help give the kids a more positive attitude about school.”
Parent Kim Russell said that the men’s presence can be beneficial. She noted a Chicago Police officer also participated in welcoming the students back to school, shaking hands with the children.
“Maybe the kids will trust the police more and not be afraid of them,” she said.
Some of the men didn’t have children at the school but still wanted to show their support.
Roseland resident Tim Lee learned about the event through a Trinity church member.
“I think this had a great impact on the students who saw us,” he said. “I think that black men have a very negative image, unfortunately, in society.”
Lee said that the encouragement and support will hopefully motivate the boys to succeed in life and not give up.
Greeter Wayne Waters, also with Trinity and a Hyde Park resident, said, “It’s important for the children who [live in this community] to know how important education is, how much we want to see them do well and how much black men care about them.”
Principal Kimberly Henderson said that a lot of her students don’t have a father in the home.
“I wanted them to see that they have a community of people who are here for them,” she said.
“We hear so much negativity about Englewood and Auburn Gresham, and black men in general. There are a lot more men who far outnumbered the ones who are doing negative in our community and they don’t get to see that,” Henderson said.
The school will have volunteer opportunities throughout the year for men, Henderson said. The men pledged Tuesday to volunteer at least once a month.
“For those who don’t have dads in the home, they need mentors and so beyond this first day, it’s about getting them to come back and volunteer in whatever way they can," Henderson said.
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