Project Fatherhood: A Story of Courage and Healing in One of America’s Toughest Communities By Jorja Leap

Ironically, I finished reading Project Fatherhood on Father’s Day weekend. This is an interesting look into the sociology of fatherhood. While set in a Watt’s housing project  its participants are Latino or African American fathers. However it tells a larger story and that is one of fatherhood as it is affected by poverty and class.

The project was funded with an eye to get fathers to come to sessions with a social worker and community leaders as well as Housing Authorities. In exchange for their participation, they would receive gift cards and information about parenting. What they got was much greater – the participants empowered themselves to create a support system through each other for all fathers in the program. They also opened a window into what it means to be a father living in poverty.

In each chapter, the fathers discuss different aspects and concerns about their position in the family, in the community and in society. One thing that comes through crystal clear is the honest voices of the participants. They do not shy away from making statements that are at times confrontational or frank and at odds with what many middle and upper class people would consider proper social mores.

Everything is covered: abuse, raising daughters, baby mama’s, the after effects of prison on themselves and their families, social supports, the roles of elders in the community and employment. In fact, the single most important running theme for all the men was the need for job creation in impoverished communities.

If there is one fundamentally important message here it is that those who are poor and perhaps socially disadvantaged in many ways, want to work. Employment provides people with a sense of identity, a role in the family and adds a measure of respect from the community. With one voice they ask over and over if this program and others introduced to their community will bring jobs.

This is an important book for anyone to read. It dispels myths about poverty; it provides important cultural insight into the African American community in particular and most importantly, for those professionals wanting to assist impoverished communities and it answers one of the most important questions “What can we do to help?”

In their own words, the fathers in this program are telling you in plain English: bring jobs to these communities. Real, long lasting employment for people who are not necessarily college educated and who have families (both nuclear and extended) to support.

This is one of those great sociological studies. If you loved Nickel and Dimed this is another entry in the social and cultural interest category worthy of public and academic interest.

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