What began for Anwan Wesley with the creation of Fatherhood
magazine in Pittsburgh in 2006 for young and expecting urban fathers has evolved into a nonprofit called the Street Ministry Institute
, reaching an increasing number of fathers and their kids in Pittsburgh and surrounding areas.
"We're trying to find innovative ways to get these men involved and stay involved," says Wesley, of East Liberty. "There are stereotypes of how fathers should be, and some of the men shy away from them, thinking it will make them look weak. A lot of these guys were in need of encouragement. That's what the magazine was always for -- to open people up."
Many of Wesley's Institute efforts use sports as the both the draw and the model for the father/son relationship. "When the men see their kids excelling at athletics, they want to be a part of it," he says. "That's a bridge they can cross. Then we try to transfer that into the schools."
Fathers and sons can join in his Steel City Thunder basketball teams for 3rd and 4th graders, 5th and 6th graders and 7th and 8th graders, as well as NFL Youth Flag Football for 2nd-12th grades and a baseball program as well. The fathers and team coaches also get involved in their children's school at the same time -- as a school coach should, he says.
Club D.A.D. (Doing it All Day) in the schools uses sports to encourage academic achievement. "My big thing is being accountable for what you learn -- because when game day comes you're going to have to [use] it," Wesley says.
"The same accountability we transfer over to schools," with fathers visiting classrooms or participating in parent-teacher conferences. "The presence of the father in the classroom is going to make the difference," because he can act as a kind of classroom coach. "If I show up in school and expect you to be doing this
and you're not doing it, there are going to be consequences. Kids respond like they do on the basketball court -- but at the end of the day, they see their value rise, because their teachers are sending home good reports."
The Institute is also working with Homewood Renaissance Association on a sports-themed STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program, teaching sports-themed STEM academics at the African American Music Institute and the YMCA in Homewood. "We're trying to open our kids' eyes to other opportunities around sports," he explains, such as being a sports lawyer, doctor, trainer or agent.
The Institute also has an arts initiative and donates socks each December to a nursing home in Homewood. On Father's Day, June 16, it will hold its largest annual program, a Father's Day Cookout at Mellon for the seventh year.
"There are other programs we will unveil in the coming months to rebuild the relationship between the child and the father," Wesley says. "We can't be everything to the kids if the parents are acting [badly]. There's a lot of broken homes. The only way to fix that is to get to the common ground -- the kid and his best interest."
He also hopes the cookout will be the beginning of his own push against violence in the community. "There's been too much gun violence," he says. "The violence [prevention], it starts with us. If we're not there, that's when violence and chaos consume the family. If you're quiet, it's like you're being held hostage by your own people."
In the end, it's Wesley's three sons who keep him dedicated to this cause, he says. "I see a lot of potential in them. I know their potential won't be realized if I don't do what I've got to do and make a path for them. Knowing that they don't know how great they are makes me go harder.
"I've got a daughter on the way," he adds, "and I believe the Lord is going to take me to another level."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Anwan Wesley, Street Ministry Institute