EAST ORANGE, NJ – For Shaun Griffin, bringing his son Alexander to school at the start of the school year, is a regular ritual. He did it when his son attended Wahlstrom Early Childhood Academy and he is doing it now that Alexander is a kindergartener at Whitney Houston Academy of Performing Arts. 

“I can’t do it everyday because of my work schedule, but I always bring him for the first few days to make sure he is doing what he is supposed to,” said Griffin, who participated in a basketball game at Wahlstrom last year and plans to continue to participate in school-based extra-curricular activities when he can.

Griffin was among hundreds of other men who brought children to East Orange public elementary schools on September 8, 2014 to join a community-wide fatherhood initiative designed to increase male involvement in the schools. Community leaders – including Mayor Lester Taylor III, East Orange City Council Members, East Orange School Superintendent Dr. Gloria Scott, and Pastor Dana P. Owens – also showed their support. 

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This event was the kick-off for a series of activities and events to be held throughout the school year. The next event will be the Father’s Conference at East Orange Campus High School on Saturday, October 4, 2014. The conference will feature nationally-renowned educator Principal Baruti Kafele, as well as resource sessions and “play stations” for children. 

“Research has shown that the presence of positive male role models in a child’s life can improve not only their grades, test scores and overall academic achievement, but also increase their health, well-being and self-esteem,” said Mayor Lester Taylor III, who visited Whitney Houston Academy of Performing and Fine Arts, before dropping off his own children, Lester Taylor IV and Lena, to Cicely Tyson Community School of Performing and Fine Arts. “I encourage men to get involved and stay involved. Fatherhood is one of the most challenging jobs a man can have. But it is by far the most rewarding.”

Dr. Scott also cited recent findings that demonstrate how father engagement positively affects the social, behavioral, psychological and cognitive outcomes of children. “Today’s event signals to our children that their father cares about them and their education,” said Dr. Scott.

Up to 500 men – fathers, stepfathers, grandfathers, uncles, older brothers, cousins, and family friends – participated in the back-to-school event, according to Matthew Stevens, Director of Recreation and Cultural Affairs. Stevens said the goal of the program is to encourage men to get involved and stay involved in children’s lives. 

“This concept has three stages – the walk to school, the Father’s Conference and then follow up activities,” said Stevens, who explained that the event, which was held in 700 cities across the U.S., originated from the Million Fathers March coordinated under the Chicago-based Black Star Project. “We are part of a project that is bigger than us.”

The City of East Orange, the East Orange School District and the East Orange Clergy Association sponsored the event.