Fathers delivered words of encouragement to students as they walked through the doors of Rawlings Elementary School before taking the math section of the Florida Student Assessment end-of-the-year test.
Sponsored by Gainesville For All (GNV4ALL), Develop A Dream and Rawlings’ officials, .about a dozen men gathered at the school at 3500 NE 15th St. Thursday morning for a meet-and-greet to support the students before they took the test .
“We want the students to know that we are here for them,” said James F. Lawrence, executive director of GNV4ALL. “This is a symbolic gesture to show up and cheer them on. There’s something about positive reinforcement — it does have an impact. This will be a starting point to get dads more involved.”
GNV4ALL was created in 2016 to address racial inequities within Alachua County.
The organization has plans to open the Gainesville Empowerment Zone Family Learning Center later this year to provide educational, social and medical services to low-income children and families in the 32609 zip code, and Alachua County in general, Lawrence said.
The Alachua County School Board approved in February that a facility on the Metcalf Elementary School campus could be used for three years to house the center.
“Kids who aren’t doing well are in families who face challenges,” Lawrence said. “We want to be there for them to let them know that someone is behind them and pushing them towards success.”
A father’s presence in a child’s life is important for their development, and the state of Florida is making an effort to help fathers be in their children’s lives, Lawrence said.
gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill (HB 7065) this year that will provide about $70 million to bolster programs aimed at equipping dads with parenting resources and helping foster youth in Florida.
“When fathers are more engaged in their children’s lives, the child is less likely to get into the criminal justice system,” Lawrence said. “We want men to know that there’s more to fatherhood than having a baby.”
Chauncy Walker, founder of Develop A Dream and GNV4ALL’s fatherhood initiative chairman, said the event meant a lot to him because of the challenges he faced as a child.
His father died when he was five years old and was looking for guidance from male mentors, Walker said.
“If you look at the African American community, there are a lot of fatherless homes,” Walker said. “My dad passed away when I was five so I know how it is to grow up without a father. I was learning on my own how to become a man.”
Walker is a physical education teacher at Rawlings and he said he followed in the footsteps of his mother who was also an educator.
“God put me here to be an example for them,” Walker said. “I don’t have children, but my students have become my children. It was nice to see the men who showed up, some of them were my mentors.”
Develop A Dream is a community-based organization that serves at-risk youth and provides tutoring and mentoring services to help children create a plan after high school, whether it’s college or trade school, Walker said.
“I want to give children a realistic picture of life and help them execute a plan to not let them fall victim to this world,” Walker said.
Claude Bonds, an assistant pastor at Mount Carmel Baptist Church, attended the event to show his support for the students.
Bonds high-fived students on their way to take the test and encouraged them verbally.
“You are beautifully-made and wonderfully-made,” Bonds said. “Tell yourself, ‘I’m going to be great today.’ You are great.”
Westwood Middle School principal Daniel Burney, formerly the principal at Rawlings, said he attended the event to be a part of the positive representation for students to see.
“Students especially need to see Black males from all walks of life supporting them,” Burney said. “There’s a special place in my heart for east side schools. When I heard about this event, I wanted to do everything we could to make it happen.”