Early on Tuesday morning, dads sat in a classroom with their children on the basement floor of Great Oaks Legacy Middle Charter School, eating bagels, drinking orange juice, and discussing what it means to be a father in Newark.

Detective Jared Adams speaks on the fatherhood panel at Great Oaks Legacy Middle School.
PHOTO CREDIT: Devna Bose/Chalkbeat

“Sitting here and watching everyone interact with their kids, you can see that fathers are nurturers,” panel speaker Nyjee Coram said. “We show our children how to have strength. We’re present.”

After finishing breakfast and dropping off their children at school for “Dads Take Your Child To School” Day, close to 50 Great Oaks dads got together to talk about the importance of men in the lives of students. The fatherhood panel members shared thoughts about steering children down the right path and growing up without a father in their own lives.

“People love to say dads aren’t involved, but here we have a room of dads who are involved,” Tyree Barnes said. He works with another director to lead the Legacy Middle School campus.  

Great Oaks Legacy Charter School has several campuses in Newark with grades K-12 and serves mostly students of color, with about 80% being black students.

Barnes was a part of the four-person panel that led the discussion, which was supported by the Greater Newark Healthcare Coalition. Others on the panel were Coram, Jared Adams, and Maurice Ingram. Coram founded and leads local mentoring program Young Black and Gifted, Adams is a father and South Orange police detective, and Ingram is a recent father and school psychologist at Great Oaks Legacy High School.

Lamar Washington, who organizes events at all Great Oaks schools in Newark, first approached Barnes about putting the gathering together.

 “We felt, as black men, that it was important,” Barnes said.

According to the most recent Newark Kids Count report, some young men in Newark feel very strongly about seeing more black men in supportive roles, such as teachers, mentors, fathers, and advocates.

“Educators often become dads for a lot of children,” Barnes said. “Growing up, I had teachers who took me under their wing, and I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for those teachers who weren’t my biological dad teaching me those things.”

A dad and daughter listen to the panel on fatherhood at Great Oaks Legacy Middle School.
PHOTO CREDIT: Devna Bose/Chalkbeat

Recent research involving urban children in pre-K through college shows that on average, involved fathers of all races were associated with significantly better education outcomes, and nationwide, events like the Million Fathers March encourage fathers to be involved in their child’s education.

Barnes said Great Oaks Legacy Middle School plans to continue the discussion, and fathers at the event expressed interest in meeting monthly.

YaQuis Jones, father of Xavier, a sixth-grader at Great Oaks, attended the event because he wanted to show his son that he was there for him and active in his school, especially because  Jones’ own father was absent in his life when he was growing up.

“It takes a village,” Jones said. “To make sure your child is taking the right steps, you have to be a part of that village.”