“When your heart is into whatever you are doing, you make it work,” says one of the members of the Dads On Duty group at Southwood High School in New Orleans. This group of forty dads, uncles and concerned men decided that they had to do something about the violence and other problems at their school. Southwood High School like so many across America was deeply plagued by gangs, violence and many other challenges that helped to create a poor learning environment for the students.
The response that was made to the gang presence and the violence that tended to erupt in the form of fights during the school day was the typical one of adding more police presence on the campus. But this did not actually help to solve the problem. The students were made uneasy by this action and the violence did not seem to be quelled by the presence of police. It was clear that another remedy was necessary.
Some of the dads decided that the presence of concerned parents might be a better remedy than continuing to increase the numbers of police without much impact beyond making the students feel even more uncomfortable about being at school. The dads formed teams that took shifts which made it possible for them to be present throughout the school day and to make sure that each child had a good school day and a safe exit from the campus at the end of the day. They arrive in the morning and spend the day walking the halls, making rounds with the principal, eating lunch with students, talking to them in the hallway and interacting in appropriate ways throughout the day.
The violence has improved significantly, the school is functioning far better than it was before the dads showed up. Students report that they feel safer and better about coming to school each day. Even the students who were not sure about parents being at school all day report being glad that the dads are there and they express delight that the school environment is improving.
This report about Dads On Duty is remarkable. In the first place, it demonstrates that solutions to many of the challenges facing us in this land can be impacted without having to have large amounts of money and elaborate plans that are not well grounded. Too many of our problem-solving efforts are motivated by self-serving ego centered energy instead of a deep commitment to solving the problem without caring who is credited for the solution. These dads have shown that a serious problem can be highly impacted by a remedy as simple as being “present.” It is their presence at their children's school and the ways in which presence conveys that one is cared about that is making this profound impact. It is the engagement of their hearts that makes this work. Some of them work long hours on their jobs and still manage to participate. Thus, this is not a remedy without costs, but is one that money cannot purchase.
Dads on Duty affirm the notion that one part of the process necessary to engage; when trying to address racial disparities, poverty issues and other justice and healing issues, must include the heart. When the heart is fully engaged in the remedy seeking effort, the outcome is more likely to be helpful to the community. While money can help in problem solving, it is not enough. Actually, we have all of the resources that we need to solve most of the challenging problems that lie in front of us, but we do not have the heart and will to seek the ways in which to use those resources to solve our problems. The simple answers which stand a good chance of being the right response are too often traded for the many unhelpful ways that we have devised to save ourselves from substantial change. Dads on Duty are challenging all who are working for change to be careful to search for remedies that actually make life better. Let's listen.