Words of encouragement from a variety of men will welcome Baltimore public school students returning to classes tomorrow.
Young people fresh from summer vacation will be greeted at the front doors and sidewalks of their school by fathers, elected officials, college students and other men as part of the fourth annual Men of Baltimore Welcome Our Children Back to School campaign.
The male leadership campaign was the brainchild of Marvin "Doc" Cheatham, president of the Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
"Fathers who actively participate in the health, welfare and educational and social development of a child are invaluable and irreplaceable," Cheatham said.
He added: "You don't have to be a parent to do this," and he encouraged all men to participate.
Cheatham said that men who take an active role in students' education can help them "earn better grades, get better test scores, enjoy school more." He added that the students are then more likely to graduate from high school and attend college.
This year, his idea is reaching outside of Baltimore - the project has inspired a nationwide campaign called the Million Father March 2005, which includes participants in more than 80 cities, including Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and Washington.
"Right now, there are people out at parades and shopping malls all over the country encouraging fathers," said Phillip Jackson, executive director of Chicago's Black Star Project and promoter of the nationwide effort, in a telephone interview yesterday.
"We're hoping that the Million Father March becomes a movement to educate black children," Jackson said.
Jackson said the campaign was started to help African-American students but that he hoped men of all races would participate.
At a news conference at the headquarters of the Baltimore NAACP branch yesterday, Cheatham, along with several elected officials and supporters of Baltimore education, urged more people to join them for tomorrow's school welcome. As of yesterday afternoon, Cheatham said 1,200 people had signed up.
"We are asking all the men to take out an hour and a half or two hours on Monday to give some love and encouragement [to students] to stay in school and let them know we will help them have a successful school year," Cheatham said.
For Cheatham and the Baltimore branch of the NAACP, tomorrow's back-to-school welcome campaign is the start of a project to encourage men to get involved in educating children.
The project also includes encouraging men to become involved in school committees, join an education advocacy group and attend Maryland State Department of Education board meetings.