Mentors, programs work to give kids male role models

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Ray Winans was 8 years old on Easter Sunday in 1987 when his father, a drug dealer, was killed in the Jeffries Projects on Detroit’s west side. He said his older cousin took over as his male role model — until he, too, was killed two years later.

Ray Winans’ father was murdered when he was 8, and he joined a gang. Winans served prison time after he bludgeoned a man when he was 14. He now helps youth who don’t have male role models.

Winans joined the Head Banger Bloods gang and sold dope like his father. At age 14, he bludgeoned a man to death with a hammer. The slaying happened in the same projects where his dad had been killed.

Winans spent the next several years in and out of prison before he found religion and vowed to become the kind of strong male role model he didn’t have.

“When a man is not present, then you have young men and boys (on the street) teaching them how to be the man versus a man,” said Winans, who mentors young people in multiple social service programs.

“... When you have a child who does not have a man in his life, and you have someone who’s teaching him to be the man — oh, my God, it’s a recipe for disaster.”

Statistics show children raised in fatherless homes are far more likely to become criminals. A 2012 U.S. Census Bureau report found 70 percent of gang members come from single-mother homes.

The issue of fatherless homes contributing to crime has been raised recently in the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, where 17 people were killed by 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, who was 6 when his adoptive father died.

Brad Wilcox, director of the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project, pointed out in 2013 that nearly every U.S. school shooting to that point involved a young man whose parents had never married or were divorced.

“As the nation seeks to make sense of these senseless shootings, we must also face the uncomfortable truth that turmoil at home all too often accounts for the turmoil we end up seeing spill onto our streets and schools,” Wilcox wrote. “The social scientific evidence about the connection between violence and broken homes could not be clearer.”

John Miles, coordinator of the Wayne County Fatherhood Initiative, which helps fathers reconnect with their children and learn life and parenting skills, said the problem of fatherless homes has been festering for years.

“It’s gotten to the point where we have generations of young men who never had a dad around,” he said.

“You have young males being raised by moms and big sisters and aunties, and their fathers and grandfathers also were raised by women,” Miles said. “There’s no male around to give them that guidance, so they often turn to people in the neighborhood and that might not be the right crowd.”

Single-parent homes are more prevalent among African-Americans. The 2015 U.S. Census survey American Families and Living Arrangements found that 39.9 percent of black families were single-parent, as opposed to 11.4 percent of white families and 6.6 percent of Asian families.

Stacey Young says she tries to give her five children good male role models by taking them to programs such as the Detroit Parent Network.

“You have a large segment of the black community that was raised without a father; or if they were around, they were trifling, committing crimes and getting high,” said Kerry Jackson, a Detroit radio talk show host and former 36th District magistrate and defense attorney.

The out-of-wedlock birth rate for African-Americans is about 70 percent, although some insist it’s a myth that black fathers are less involved in their children’s lives than dads from other racial groups. They say the statistics reflect only whether a woman is married to her children’s father, not the level of a man’s involvement.

“I’m seeing more black fathers start to take responsibility for their kids,” Jackson said. “Two weeks ago, I went to (a Detroit high school), and I told my wife I saw just as many black fathers picking their kids up as black mothers. So it does seem to be getting better.”

Jackson said many poor families, black and white, broke up in the 1960s and 1970s because women could not receive welfare benefits with a man in the house.

“Women knew they could get a check, but they had to kick the man out,” said Jackson, who hosts a talk show on WFDF-AM (910), in which he often implores black men to take responsibility for their families. “So that left a lot of homes where the father wasn’t there to raise his kids.”

Winans said it’s important for children to see everyday examples of men being responsible.

“Some of these young men have never seen a man go to the grocery store and go shopping, or do laundry,” he said. “This is what a man does.

“Being a man means taking care of your family, making an honest living, paying your bills, investing in your children’s future, loving your wife, being a gentleman. You lead your family and set the example. Being a man is leaving a legacy.”

Stacey Young said she didn’t have any positive male role models growing up, and now her five children are in the same situation. Young, 34, was adopted by a single woman. The father of her children also was raised by a single mother.

“Then, when his mother passed, the streets raised him,” said Young, whose three girls and two boys range from 3 to 10 years old. “He wasn’t equipped with the necessary skills to be a good father.”

Young says she tries to compensate for her kids’ lack of a father by taking them to various programs, including those offered by the Detroit Parent Network, which provides classes for families, including “Men of DPN,” in which men teach other men how to be better fathers.

“My children see other men interacting with their kids, and at least they see the picture of what a father should be,” she said. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s the reality.

“I was just talking to my friend about this. These are things we should have thought of before having children: Are the men willing to commit to being a father? It’s a big job. It’s become the norm for fathers to not be there.”

The high prison rate among black men adds to the number of fatherless homes. While African-Americans make up about 12 percent of the United States population, they make up 37 percent of prison inmates, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

“Who was mostly impacted by the war on drugs? The black male,” Winans said. “When that crack epidemic hit, think about how many women and men were using crack and having babies. We talk about anger and resentment ... you have an individual who was born and raised by their grandparents because mom or dad wasn’t there. Can you imagine as a kid thinking ‘my mom and dad didn’t want me because they wanted these drugs more?’ ”

Willie Bell, founder of Family Assistance of Renaissance Men in Detroit, which helps men connect with their children by providing training and jobs to pay back child support, said he was raised by a single mother on welfare and felt the pain of not having his father around.

“My dad was a drunk,” he said. “He died at 57 of sclerosis of the liver. It was hard. I remember the Boy Scouts came into my junior high school, looking to take boys on a field trip. You needed a male to go with you, but I didn’t have one.

“I cried, and wrote a poem called ‘If I ever needed my father, I need him now.’ I never finished it; I remember there were tears on the page. It was definitely a void in my life. I yearned to have a father. I never had any male guidance, and that caused problems. I didn’t get into any deep crime, but I did my share of dirt.”

Winans, who works with the Black Male Equity Initiative, and serves as violence coordinator with DLIVE, a hospital-based program that mentors gunshot victims, pointed out that girls also suffer from not having strong male role models.

“When I first started this work, people told me ‘these young men need men in their lives.’ I embraced it ... but I found out these young women … are in the same boat. (They’re missing) a man loving them, and teaching them how to be treated, and not settling for anything, but how to be appreciated as a woman.”

Winans said he wasn’t there to raise his daughter because he was in prison — and when he got out, he found she was headed down the same rocky road as her father and grandfather.

“She was kicked out of school for trying to sell weed,” he said. “She was taking that same path as a female version of me.

“I heard the voice of the living God talk to me,” Winans said. “I made a decision at that moment (to be more involved in her life), and told her mom, ‘you’ve done a good job raising her, but she’s taking a path that I’m very familiar with, and you’re not familiar with. Let me get her.’

“Now she’s graduating (from high school) this year,” Winans said. “She’s a 3.2 (GPA) student.”

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN