Something somewhat extraordinary happened last month at Billy Earl Dade Middle School in Dallas.
The school — with a student population of nearly 900, about 90 percent from low-income families — planned to host its first “Breakfast with Dads,” according to the Dallas Morning News. About 150 male students, ages 11 to 13, signed up. But event organizers were concerned that some would attend without a male figure at their side, so they put out a call for volunteers who could serve as mentors.
“When a young person sees someone other than their teacher take interest in them, it inspires them. That’s what we want to see happen,” the Rev. Donald Parish Jr., pastor of True Lee Missionary Baptist Church and the event organizer, told the Morning News.
A call for volunteers by children’s advocate Kristina Chäadé Dove — who has served on what is called a site-based decision-making team for the middle school — was published on social media in early December:
When the day came for the event, nearly 600 men showed up to help and mentor the boys, some of them volunteering for the first time.
Stephanie Drenka, a Dallas photographer and blogger who works with Dove at Big Thought, a nonprofit organization that works with partners across the city to provide creative learning programs for young people, chronicled the event here in words and photos. She wrote:
Back in December, the team ran into some difficulty when planning their annual “Breakfast with Dads” event. Dade’s community liaison Ellyn Favors mentioned that student participation was low due to young men not having a father/father-figure available to attend the event. Kristina decided to post a call for volunteers on Facebook in the hope of finding 50 male mentors to accompany the middle schoolers…
The unexpected influx of interest led the team to move the event from the cafeteria into the gymnasium so they could house more guests. Kristina engaged the community again in getting volunteers to help with setup and check-in. Team members from Big Thought, the Office of Cultural Affairs, and even Kristina’s personal friends showed up alongside the male mentors to make the event possible…
I will never forget witnessing the young students surrounded by supportive community members. There were so many volunteers, that at times I saw young men huddled in the center of 4-5 mentors. The look of awe- even disbelief- in students’ eyes as they made their way through the crowd of “Dads” was astonishing.
Jamil “The Tie Man” Tucker led the auditorium in a hands-on icebreaker activity. He spoke of learning how to tie a tie as a rite of passage some young men never experience. Mentors handed out ties to the eager students and helped them perfect their half-Windsor knot.
The sight of a necktie may forever bring a tear to my eye.