By Ivana Hester
“As long as you want to be a good father, you can be a good father,” Jermaine Turner says.
Just 20 years old, Turner now has dreams that may have never been realized if not for the Dove Tail Project.
Every Tuesday, a dozen or so young men – many of them fathers like Turner – gather to hear the wisdom of 22 year-old Sheldon Smith, nickname Berg, on what it takes to be a good father. They assemble at the Jackson Park Field House, located right off of Stony Island Avenue across the street from the YMCA.
As a young man growing up, Smith had to deal with the absence of his father in his life. Facing many challenges because of the lack of a strong male figure, Sheldon became interested in teaching the importance of a father’s role in a child’s life.
A Passion for Good Fathering
“If I had of had my father in my life I know that my life would be different,” he says. This inspired him to be different when it came to his daughter. It also inspired him to encourage other young men to do the same. Smith says,
“It became a passion,” he explains.
Dove Tail means to come together, and using that theme Smith founded the 12-week program for young men to learn how to become good fathers in their children’s lives.
To be sure, research points to the great need for fathers who want a place in their children’s lives. The most recent statistics show that many African-American youngsters still live without a father at home.
The Dove Tail effort meets this need by providing young men with parenting skills and life skills. It also provides education opportunities, as well as job opportunities upon graduation the program.
Smith and partner George Boling feel that the Dove Tail Project is the answer to the high number of missing fathers in the black community.
Fathers Stepping Up
Sheldon’s program is proof about another trend that has also been taking place – the wave of black fathers stepping up and playing a major role in their children’s lives. In response, the two have started filming a documentary of their own focusing on the Dove Tail Project and the success that they are having.
Sheldon says, “It has truly been a successful program, our first graduating class of seven, my next was a class of thirteen and this class will be a class of sixteen graduating.”
The Dove Tail Project is one of the many different groups and programs sponsored by M.A.G.I.C, which stands for Metropolitan Area Group for Igniting Civilization. This group has multiple programs like the Dove Tail project, which help build a stronger community.
Jonathan Johnson, 19, says that the program has been very effective in his life. He plans to start his own landscaping business, which he is already in the process of doing. He hands out his new business cards where ever he goes. This is his second year in the program. “I knew I wanted to be a great father, I just didn’t know how to be a good father,” he explains.
Looking back, he credits the program with giving him the resources to be a better father.
As a result, he regularly goes out and speaks to other young men now about being better fathers in their children’s lives and possibly joining the program.
Johnson feels the program is a great motivation because all of the support that the group provides. He says, “If I didn’t start going to the program 2 years ago I probably still wouldn’t have a high school diploma, I wouldn’t have a good job and I wouldn’t have met all these great people that do a lot for me.” He says a program like this should be around for women as well.
Indeed, Sheldon Smith talks of expanding the program all across the Mid-West, and hopes that the program’s growth can one day be countrywide. Johnson and Smith both agree that the spread of the program is needed in other urban communities.
Smith says, “This program is better for society.”