On Father’s Day eve, the Obama administration will launch a unique program it hopes will “create a buzz” about responsible fatherhood that will be a close as a local barbershop.

Fatherhood Buzz, an eight-city pilot program that is a part of the president’s Fatherhood and Mentoring Initiative, and is designed to educate about responsible fatherhood and parenting and to help men find ways to become positive influences in their children’s lives.

“We want to create a conversation so we’re having a more critical discussion about fatherhood,” said Kenneth Braswell, director of the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse (NRFC) for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the Initiative.

And there’s no better hub for that conversation than the community barbershop—especially in Black neighborhoods, Braswell said. On June 16 the program will be launched in more than 100 barbershops in eight cities across the nation: Albany, N.Y.; Atlanta, Ga.; Chicago, Ill.; Los Angeles, Calif.; Milwaukee Wis.; New York, N.Y.;?Philadelphia, Pa.; and Washington, D.C.

“Most men are more comfortable getting advice, support or resources from the people they trust,” Braswell said. “ the barbershop has the institutional history of speaking to the hearts of men and boys that come to them every two weeks.”

He added, “The long-term strategy is to empower grassroots businesses to be a resource to the same people they serve.”

Public discussions about responsible fatherhood have often focused on the “sensational”—baby daddy drama, dead-beat dads and child support, Braswell said. “But the more critical conversation is about family and about children having two parents in their lives.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, an estimated 24 million (one in three) children live without their biological father. And children who live absent of their biological fathers are, on average, at least two to three times more likely to be poor, to use drugs, to experience educational, health, emotional and behavioral problems, to be victims of child abuse and to engage in criminal behavior than their peers who live with their married, biological (or adoptive) parents.

In a positive trend, however, 86 percent of dads say they spend more time with their children than their fathers did with them, according to a national online survey by the Ad Council.

“Men are understanding more of the ; it’s the resources that they are lacking that serves as the catalyst of their inability to provide for their children adequately in the way they desire,” Braswell said.

And finances tend to be the least available resource—particularly among low-income, often minority men. And those men will be the primary focus of the first stage of the initiative, which is focused on promoting economic stability. Every three the program’s focus or “buzz” will change.

“Black men are suffering under multiple stresses…They’re at the bottom of the pole when it comes to social ills,” Braswell said, addressing concerns that Obama’s “responsible fatherhood” efforts seem directed at Black men.

Black men are disproportionately incarcerated; they have a disproportionately high school dropout rate and they are inordinately jobless, he added. And, he hopes Fatherhood Buzz will help provide the resources these men need, particularly employment opportunities.

“We have to find support mechanisms to get them back into school or to get training for a better job,” he said.

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO