The White House Office of Public Engagement and Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships honors 10 individuals who are doing tremendous work in the fields of fatherhood and low-income men and boys. Because of his work in this field Joseph T. Jones is being recognized as a Champion of Change.
I care profoundly about my role as a father, which didn't begin with me being a responsible dad. When my first son was born, I was consumed by selfish addiction. Along this stage of my personal journey, which included periods of incarceration, I met many young dads with similar stories to mine. We all wanted to be good dads, but just didn't know how.
In 1986, I committed to establishing a relationship with my son. I had no idea how or where to begin. Given that my father was largely absent from my life, I had no role model to emulate. Afraid and unsure of myself, I fought through my emotional discomfort to reconnect with my son. Today, we are adult men who share a father/son bond; talking and texting frequently, traveling together, and following our beloved Baltimore Orioles, who are finally winning!
My wife Debra, her beautiful daughter, our mutual son, and my own son have inspired me to use my personal journey to help other fathers like myself. I began by establishing fathering services at the Baltimore City Health Department to expectant dads who were the partners of pregnant women. This experience showed me that most dads want to be responsible fathers, if given the opportunity and tools to do so.
Armed with this belief, I founded the Center for Urban Families (CFUF) in 1999 where we help fathers and families work. CFUF's mission is to strengthen urban communities by helping fathers and families achieve stability and economic success. Today, the Center owns a newly constructed 32,000 sq. ft. facility located in one of Baltimore's most challenging communities. Our work, which is done with collaboration from a strong cadre of community, public and private partnerships, includes parenting services for fathers, workforce development training, job placement and retention, and career advancement services for men and women, policy advocacy, and alumni services for graduates designed to achieve and maintain family stability and economic success for our clients. Moreover, CFUF has recently established a Practitioner's Leadership Institute to help and empower other individuals, organizations, and communities to learn from our experience.
I define responsible fatherhood as the complementary role that fathers fulfill in partnership with the mothers of their children, regardless of the status of their romantic relationship. All children deserve to have a healthy relationship with both of their parents. I strongly believe that this formula – elevating responsible fatherhood as a social norm - is the best widely untried strategy to prevent children from dropping out of school, dropping into the juvenile justice system, and becoming parents too soon. Responsible fatherhood is a powerful recipe to further reduce child poverty and strengthen families. I hope that all dads will know what it means to cultivate a meaningful relationship with their children. It’s not about being perfect, it's about being there.
Joseph T. Jones is the Founder of the Center for Urban Families.