Pandemic Has ‘Large’ Influence On Black Fathers, Help Middle Founder Says
It’s obvious that Halbert Sullivan, 69, Founder and CEO of the Fathers & Families Support Center, is proud of the growth of his nonprofit organization.
Just beyond the foyer, Sullivan points to the classrooms where fathers learn to deal with violence in relationships, improve parenting skills, communicate better with their children’s mothers, and more.
The agency moved into its renovated headquarters at 1601 Olive Street in downtown St. Louis last year, valued at $ 4.5 million.
Confirmatory quotes are attached to the oval “Wall of Wisdom” behind a spiral staircase. Quotations such as “A family who prays together stays together” complement Sullivan’s oratorio on the agency’s evolution from the Father’s support center to its current incarnation.
“We have been working with mothers for four years. We started a youth program back in 2002, ”said Sullivan. “Since we worked with the whole family, it made sense to change the name.”
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected its customers? Sullivan laced his fingers and spoke solemnly.
“The pandemic has had a very negative impact on black fathers. Most of our population is employed in low-cost occupations. You don’t have jobs where you can use technology and work from home. Most of them have to be there. “
Because African Americans disproportionately make up a disproportionately large number of “key workers” in industries like grocery stores, restaurants, and warehouses, “being there” means some fathers stay away from their children to avoid the risk of spreading the virus.
Then there is the economic downturn that has robbed many of their incomes.
“The loss of jobs has a negative impact on the father’s family as one less piece of money goes into the home,” said Sullivan. He added that many of his clients require rental or utility assistance.
Due to unemployment and judicial systems that have been changed by protection orders, some fathers are unable to comply with custody rules, which puts more strain on families.
The center had to adapt to help fathers meet the virtual demands of family courts. The center also switched from classroom teaching to the virtual offering of the six-week curriculum.
Fathers who don’t have a computer or smartphone are given tablets so they can take classes and court sessions through apps like Zoom.
Even so, Sullivan said his job was “a joy” even in a pandemic.
Since last March, the center has helped nearly 200 fathers get jobs, he said. The same enthusiasm he showed when talking about his rehabilitated headquarters shows when he talked about the renovated lives of the fathers he works with. It’s a transformation that Sullivan has seen firsthand.
“I was trapped in these streets,” he said, describing his years of struggles with crack cocaine. In 1993, he decided to fight his addiction by enrolling in a local drug rehab center. He’s been drug-free for 27 years, Sullivan said proudly.
Another quote on the oval wall, “An Education Can Serve You” highlights how Sullivan’s addiction was overcome through education.
After rehab, he enrolled at Community College and then Fontbonne University before completing his Masters at Washington University’s Brown School of Social Work.
Sullivan was an absent father himself and said the Brown School helped him step into the plight of missing black fathers.
“I learned that children who grow up without fathers are all 70 percent of those who will go to prison. These are just a few of the drawbacks of not having a responsible male figure at home. “
Sullivan and three board members founded their father’s support center in 1997. A year later, the organization began recruiting fathers for classes.
Sullivan says more than 17,000 fathers have used the center since its inception. More than $ 1 million has been raised for child support, and 42,000 children now have “more responsible fathers” in their lives, he added.
Sullivan introduced one of his youngest graduates, Trevon Robinson, 25, a machinist at a local industrial processing equipment company and the first-time father of a 6-month-old daughter.
It appears that Robinson lived up to the description of a “responsible father” even before joining the center. He has a decently paid job and his daughter and her mother’s toddler son live with him. At this point, Robinson is responsible for bringing up the children.
At first Robinson thought he didn’t need the services of Sullivan’s agency. He decided to give it a try anyway and was influenced by the stories and struggles of men much older and in more desperate situations than him. These stories helped him understand that his upbringing at Pine Lawn made him vulnerable to their results.
“I have related to them. I grew up around it all; I’ve seen it all, ”said Robinson. “I gained confidence through these courses. I got the fear of being a bad father out of my head. “
Clearing the mind of negative habits and making conscious choices is the beginning of becoming a responsible father, Sullivan said.
“At the age of 43, I decided to stop using drugs and enroll in college. Sure, there were bumps in the road. But if I can change, everyone can change, ”Sullivan said. “It’s choices, man. It’s choices. “
Sylvester Brown Jr. is a reporter for St. Louis American, a news affiliate for St. Louis Public Radio.