LONG BEACH – As Demoris Mosley talks about becoming a better father, his sons, Donovan, 9, and Dominic, 7, crawl around on the floor watching a spider spinning a web in a corner of the room.
Mosley tells them several times to get up and let the spider be. Eventually he surrenders and lets them act in the way of all 8 and 9-year-old boys.
Mosley is able to spend this time with his boys on a weekday afternoon in part because of his involvement with the Role of Men Academy.
He learned the patience and civility he needed in negotiating with his ex-wife for visitation with the boys, even after she moved with them to Fresno.
Eight years ago, Don Evans had his youngest daughter taken away from him by the
Through his involvement with Role of Men, Evans won back custody of the child and he and the two girls are thriving.
When Alphonse Mitchell was introduced to Role of Men, he was only interested in the $20 gift card from Target that he could receive by attending several classes.
The group’s advocacy on his behalf helped keep him out of prison and now the grandfather is learning to be a positive role model for the granddaughter who now lives with him.
From all walks and life circumstances, fathers in Long Beach have been coming to Role of Men since 1995.
The Long Beach program helps fathers become not only more responsible and active parents, but more responsible and active citizens and members of their community.
Some Role of Men graduates, like Evans, are successful professionals. Others, like Mitchell or Richard Winfrey, have struggled with drugs and the law. Some, like Mosley, were going through failing relationships. But almost all share one trait – they lacked a strong solid father figure. Those who enter Role of Men seek to become that kind of father figure in their attempts to break a vicious cycle.
Not all who enter graduate and not all graduates succeed, but many do and are now leading the kinds of productive lives that provide hope for the Central Area neighborhood in Long Beach, roughly bordered by Seventh Street to the south, Willow Street to the north, Pacific Avenue to the west and Atlantic Avenue to the east.
Since it was created more than 13 years ago, Role of Men has graduated more than 1,000 and provided services to more than 3,000. Those who finish the program are provided with intensive case management.
According to project director David Hillman Jr., the results are encouraging enough that Role of Men is being considered as a model for other programs and is working on training manuals and literature.
Role of Men conducts its business at the Central Facilities offices next to Martin Luther King Jr. Park. It operates under grant funding from a variety of sources and is under the umbrella of the city’s Department of Health and Human Services.
The program operates on a budget of about $450,000 and Hillman says he’d like to see the program become “institutionalized” in the city to guarantee somewhat stable funding.
Hillman Jr. grew up around the block. His father, David Hillman Sr., was the owner-operator of the drive-in dairy on what is now Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. And Hillman credits the guidance and love of his father with helping him go to college and succeed. Now he’s trying to provide some of the guidance and chances many of his contemporaries never had.
In the office of the Rev. Larry Ginn, Role of Men’s case manager, there is a picture of a black man holding an infant to his chest. Several posters proclaim “Family Life!!!”
“We’re trying to include the father in the family equation,” Hillman says.
He notes that aid programs for single-parent families, even in their names, seem to exclude fathers. He points out state’s MCAH, Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health, and the federal WIC program, Women, Infants and Children, as prime examples.
For Hillman, getting dads in the picture is what it’s all about.
Role of Men was begun in an effort to combat the high infant mortality among African-American children in Long Beach, but it has become more, much more than that.
Breaking the cycle Importance of fathers
Numerous studies show the importance of intact families, or at least functional units with dual parental involvement, in children’s success. And just as many studies show how difficult it can be without that support.
The numbers are chilling. According to census data, nationally 65 percent of African-American children live in single-family homes, the overwhelming majority of whom are women.
According to Census data, in Long Beach 64 percent of African-American women between 15 and 50 who gave birth in 2005 were unmarried, versus 38 percent for the population overall.
Social scientists link a marketplace of risks for children from single-parent homes from low educational attainment to higher likelihood of gang participation, commission of violent crimes and double the likelihood of going to jail, according to the Children’s Health Encyclopedia.
Role of Men attempts to take a holistic approach in its dealings with men under the belief that mental health and social services, education and employment are all part of the package needed for success.
Hillman says his is not a gang prevention program, yet rival gang members will sit side by side in classes and interact. Role of Men is not an employment program, but graduates often find stable, good-paying jobs. It’s not an education program but graduates go on to higher education.
The program also addresses anger management, drug use, legal custody and a host of other issues designed to help men make better decisions and live better lives.
The program also includes outreach, to find men in need of help, and case management to refer the men to places and programs where they can receive additional help.
“We don’t mandate. We just provide the most accurate information so they can make the most wise decisions,” Hillman says.
Most important, Hillman said the program works.
“I’ve seen programs come and go and lives not changed,” says Hillman of other programs he calls “poverty pimps.”
Certainly the lives of guys like Evans, Mitchell, Winfrey and Mosley have changed.
“Most of the men I met have turned into a positive,” Winfrey says. “We’re the fathers of the ‘hood and that’s an honor in itself.”
On a summer day as Dana, 8, and Destiny Evans, 9, play at Reservoir Park, it’s hard to imagine how close they came to being split apart.
When Dana was born about 4 months prematurely, she weighed barely a pound and fit into the palm of her father’s hand. Chances of her survival were grim, but she hung on.
When she was healthy enough to go home, she still required a regimen of medications, intravenous drips, shots and heart and breathing monitors.
When Don Evans arrived at the hospital to take Dana home, his girl was gone. She had been removed because officials thought the single father couldn’t handle the demands.
The daughter’s mother suffered from sickle cell disease and could not care for the child, and had agreed to let Evans have custody.
After calling an attorney to begin a legal battle to reclaim his child and maintain custody of his 1-year-old, whom DCFS wanted to remove from the home, Evans joined Role of Men.
The easiest thing in the world would have been to act out in frustration or anger or simply feel overwhelmed and give up.
But Evans’ new family, Role of Men, wouldn’t let him.
“I learned that was other people may think is impossible is possible,” Evans says.
With the help of Role of Men, Evans developed a parenting plan that he could present to the courts.
He learned how to operate the heart and breathing monitors his daughter required, learned infant CPR and how to administer medications and even the IV drips.
When Evans appeared in court, the whole staff from Role of Men accompanied him and advocated on his behalf.
It wasn’t easy. Evans spent $19,000 and lost his house fighting for custody.
Today, he and his daughters share a modest apartment in Long Beach. But they’re together and Evans wouldn’t want it any other way.
When he joined the program, Alphonse Mitchell, now 51, didn’t really fit the demographic. His children were grown and he felt different from the other younger men.
So he sat in the back of the class, didn’t talk much and waited for the gift card that had been his inducement to attend.
Mitchell considered dropping out. He had copped to a drug possession charge and with his arrest record it looked like he would do four years in state prison.
One day Mitchell said he was sitting at home drinking a “40” when his Role of Men case worker called.
Maybe it was the booze, the loneliness or the fear. Maybe it was the thought of not seeing his young granddaughter for years. Whatever the reason, Mitchell let down his defenses and began talking and sharing with his classmates and staffers.
Mitchell was referred to a drug program and when it came time for sentencing, a number of Role of Men representatives appeared to speak on Mitchell’s behalf.
“I remember the judge said `You have some powerful people on your team,”‘ Mitchell recalled. “Then he suspended my sentence.”
Mitchell had to undergo house arrest and wear a court-ordered ankle bracelet, but he had a second chance, he says, “to give back.”
Like many of his compatriots, Mitchell grew up without a father figure to teach him what it meant to be a parent.
Mitchell had a good-paying job with the city and thought providing made him a good father.
“I paid the bills, but I was just paying lip service to being a father,” Mitchell says.
These days, Mitchell accompanies his granddaughter on two buses each day to school. He hopes to give her some of the guidance he failed to give to his own children.
“If I had taught (my kids) life skills, maybe they’d be strong enough that I could send (my granddaughter,)” Mitchell says.
For Winfrey, being a part of Role of Men has helped him control the rage that arises.
“I’m here to tell you I’ve learned a lot,” Winfrey says. “(Learning) anger management had helped me be a better father.”
Winfrey has had issues with violence, gang affiliation and crime through the years, including spousal abuse.
His ex-wife has moved to Lancaster with his three kids, Delvin, 14, Raven, 12, and Angelica, 11, but Winfrey says he stays involved with their lives.
Winfrey says he has learned that there is more to being a parent than just a title.
“Anyone can say they’re a moms or pops or whatever,” Winfrey said, proving and showing it is something else.
Winfrey didn’t meet his father until he was 22 and described it as an awkward exchange.
“I said `What can I call you. I don’t even know you. It’s hard for me to feel you,”‘ Winfrey recalls.
Winfrey says he strives not to fall into that trap.
“I tell my son every day what I went through, `I refuse to let you go through the same thing,”‘ Winfrey says.
The breakup with his wife was getting ugly and Demoris Mosley wasn’t handling it well.
Although Mosley was good at helping other people with their problems as a rehab and drug counselor, his own life was a mess. And it was affecting the kids.
Role of Men helped Mosley become centered and to hear the kinds of things he told clients.
“It reaffirmed and reassured me that there were things more important than myself,” Mosley says.
And those were his boys, Donovan and Dominic.
Mosley has custody of the boys on alternate weekends and through part of the summer.
Several times he has traveled to see the boys in school in Fresno, where the boys reside with their mom.
While there, he says he was able to change perceptions school officials had about him after talking to the mother.
“If not for the (Role of Men) classes I would have been up there all, `arrgh!”‘ Mosley said. “But I dealt with it in an adult manner. I’m learning how to be responsible and not so emotional.”