Andrew Moore, a 23-year-old father of two, is slated to stand before nearly 500 men today to explain why he left the drug game to help raise his children.
Moore quit selling hard drugs two years ago and decided to accept his parental responsibilities, primarily because he did not want to be like his father, who Moore says abandoned him when he was 2.
Moore, now a bricklayer, will share his experiences as a panelist at a free one-day fatherhood conference at New Shiloh Baptist Church Family Life Center, 2100 N. Monroe St.
"It's people out there that if they hear me speak and hear what I went through, they know they're not the only people out there that is going through that," Moore said. "They can do the same thing I did. I lived the life, selling drugs, getting robbed, getting shot at. But that's not the way to live."
Some of the area's leading experts and authors on raising children will advise hundreds of fathers, the majority of whom have had run-ins with the law or grew up without fathers. Breakout sessions will include such topics as employment opportunities, preventing domestic violence and financial planning.
Richard A. Rowe, president of the African American Male Leadership Institute, will give the keynote address.
Casey Family Services, a branch of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, along with Maryland Regional Practitioners' Network for Fathers and Families, is host for the conference. Representatives of Casey Family Services say such a gathering is needed in a community that has many single-family homes.
In Baltimore, there were 37,182 single-mother households in 2003, nearly 8,000 more than homes with two parents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey Profile, information provided by the Center for Fathers, Families and Workforce Development.
"Many of the fathers have isolated themselves, and they think that issues and certain things are unique to them," said Anees Abdul-Rahim, a family-support specialist for Casey Family Services. "To get them out into a conference like this and let them know that there are professional people who really understand the issues that hinder them from being a successful father, i.e. racism, lack of jobs, lack of education, is important."
Abdul-Rahim says he generally tries to reach out to fathers during the pregnancy or soon thereafter, as he did with Moore.
A few months before Moore's second child was born, Abdul-Rahim contacted Moore through Moore's girlfriend and moved quickly to get him off the street.
Moore's first child, who has a different mother, lives with Moore's mother.
"There is a window of opportunity to when a man is going to get involved in a child's life. I called Andrew and told him I wanted to meet with him," Abdul-Rahim said. "He said, 'I'm glad you called me because I was just thinking about what I wanted to do with my life.'"
Moore is to be part of a panel discussion today called "Overcoming Challenges, Renewing Our Commitment, Reclaiming Our Families."
"They say if you don't have a father figure, you go in the opposite direction," Moore said. "I did go the opposite way ... but I turned my life around. By my father not being there, I had it in my head that if I ever had a child, I'm not going to treat my child the way my father treated me."
Moore considers himself lucky. He was never arrested for selling drugs and got out of the game before he became too entrenched in the culture.
William Jackson, 32, will join Moore's panel and talk about his similar upbringing, his struggles with homelessness at one point and the relationship he has with his 5- and 7-year-old sons.
Jackson, like Moore, grew up without a father. He and his former wife split up four years ago, sending Jackson into a downward spiral that left him out of his kids' lives until January. Now Jackson drives a van for Casey Family Services and sees his children a few times a week.
"I don't look for no credit or no attention because I feel like I'm doing what I'm suppose to do," Jackson said.