At Flat Shoals Elementary on the first day, black men lead the way

At Flat Shoals Elementary School for the first day of school Monday, students were told to bring pencils, paper and dads.

Or granddads. Or big brothers. Or some other male role model.

The effort, Principal Laconduas Freeman said, was the school’s contribution to the Million Father March, started by a Chicago nonprofit for black men to show they support education for the children in their lives.

Dozens of men greeted students as they arrived, escorted some to their classrooms and offered encouragement as the school year got under way.

“Their presence was greatly appreciated,” said Freeman, beginning her second year as principal.

The march is an initiative of The Black Star Project, an organization which provides educational services to help close the racial academic achievement gap. Since the march’s inception in 2004, men around the country have taken their children to school on the first day to show their commitment to the students’ educational success. Schools across the country hold events on the first day and throughout the school year, using black men as the guide.

U.S. Census Bureau data from 2011 shows more than 24 million children don’t live with their biological fathers, about one in three children in America. The number rises to nearly two-thirds in the black community.

Teachers sometimes fill the gap through mentorship. At Flat Shoals, a grandparent support group exists because many of them are helping raise their children's children.

“The role of the father is very key and important,” Freeman said. “The man sets the tone for the type of man a woman will marry … the type of man (a boy) should become.”