Congressman’s town hall discussed today’s man

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With Father’s Day just a week away, U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Chicago) held a community event Saturday to promote fatherhood and the importance of having a male figure in the lives of young people.

Davis said there are millions of young children who grow up without having much or any contact with their fathers, making them more likely to drop out of high school and/or become teen parents.

Davis said events like his “state of today’s man town hall” are designed to change the issues black men face in the community.

“Black men are the most troubled group in America, they have the highest unemployment rate,” he said. They have “the highest of everything that’s negative and the lowest of everything positive.”

About 300 people of all ages gathered Saturday at Malcolm X College to hear the congressman and a panel of professionals talk about fatherhood responsibilities, as well as topics like violence on the West and South Sides.

Speaking to a crowded auditorium, Davis said anybody can have sperm and be a producer, but not everybody necessarily knows what is means to be a father.

Benneth Lee, founder of National Alliance for the Empowerment of the Formerly Incarcerated, began the discussion by talking about his own experiences. Lee grew up in Austin in a two-parent household but said he still ended up getting involved with a gang and spent time in prison.

He said all of his twenties were spent behind a prison wall, so when he got released at the age of 30 he had to reinvent himself.

“I had to see myself differently, other than a gang leader and a street hustler,” Lee said. “I had to step into a GED class at 32 years old and learn how to do fractions and multiplication.”

Lee has been out of prison 30 years now and has since earned several degrees. The Northeastern Illinois University professor said he’s tried to be a male role model for the youth in his community.

“We somehow have to be more present to interrupt how our young people spend their time outside the home,” Lee said.

There’s no social development happening with young people at home and no social connection outside the home either, he said.

Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck came from a poor neighborhood and a fatherless home but grew up to become the director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Hasbrouck said young black people are facing a deficit of hope and aspiration, and they need to be taught to have self value.

“What you think of yourself will really determine your outcome in life, and being in a deficit situation doesn’t mean you’re destined for something less,” Hasbrouck told the young men in the audience.

There was also talk about law enforcement and the interactions young black men have with the criminal justice system. Panelists included probation officers, judges, attorneys and the No. 2 cop at the Chicago Police Department, Al Wysinger.

Wysinger said what’s going on in Chicago speaks for itself, but it’s not just a law-enforcement problem; it’s also a community and social problem.

Illinois Appellate Judge Marcus Salone talked about how young black men are too often giving police officers reasons to be stopped on the street.

Sgt. Gregory Jackson of the Chicago Police Department said some people look like walking billboards that say “stop me.”

Dwayne Johnson, a supervising probation officer, said it’s all about the choices young people make.

“Make decisions that keep you out of the system because once you’re in it, it’s hard to get out,” Johnson said.


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