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National Conference Seeks to Boost Plight of African American Fathers

By ADD SEYMOUR JR.

(April 29, 2009) -- LaShawn Hoffman was nearly six years old when it dawned on him – he didn’t have a daddy at home.

Like many of Hoffman's friends back then, his father wasn't an active part of his family's life.

“That’s when I realized I didn’t have a daddy," Hoffman said during the Turning the Corner on Father Absence in Black America Revisited conference held in the Executive Conference Center’s Bank of America Auditorium on April 29. "I really had this negative connotation that I didn’t know very many strong, black men.”

The conference, presented by the National Fatherhood Leaders Group with the Morehouse Research Institute, is a follow-up to the 1998 National Conference on Manhood that was also held at Morehouse. It is all part of a nationwide movement to uplift the status of African American fathers.

Hoffman, a southwest Atlanta resident who is now CEO of the Pittsburgh Community Improvement Association, joined other social service professionals from across the country to discuss ways to address the problem.

“Policymakers are looking at ways to boost fathers,” said Vickie Turetsky, director of family policy for the Center on Law and Social Policy in Washington D.C. She pointed to new employment and education ideas, potential prisoner re-entry programs and even a proposed Earned Income Credit for non-custodial parents.

“So there are a number of pieces of legislation that have been put out there since President Obama took office and the new Congress took their seats,” she said.

That’s why the conference is so important, said MRI executive director Obie Clayton.

“To impact policy, especially with the administration’s emphasis on trying to get men re-engaged with families and employed,” he said. “So we have grassroots organizations here for the conference because they need to be abreast of the policy.”

Hoffman, who has since forged a relationship with his father, believes that policy should center on creating jobs in the communities where African American fathers are living. That would start a positive cycle in which those fathers would feel they are vested in their communities and would be focused on building stronger neighborhoods. The better neighborhoods would then foster stronger families, he said.

Michael Thurmond, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Labor, said creating jobs, uplifting young men who’ve been caught in the prison system and revamping and enforcing child support laws are good places to start. But he wants to see more emphasis placed on the positives.

“Rather than focusing on the fathers who don’t do, I say we focus on the fathers who do do,” he said to applause. “Good fathers come in all varieties, so we have to expand our horizons on what is good fatherhood.”

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