The White House Office of Public Engagement and Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships honors 10 individuals who are doing tremendous work in the fields of fatherhood and low-income men and boys. Because of his work in this field Roland C. Warren is being recognized as a Champion of Change.
My own life and the “life” of the organization I lead have taken similar paths. Let’s start with me. When I was about 7 years old, my parents split up. For a long time, I was frustrated and confused about my feelings for my dad, who became distant and ultimately disconnected from my daily life. I am nearly 50 years old now, and I still carry a wound - a hole in my soul in the shape of my dad. But, there were lots of wounded souls out there who were yearning for their father’s love and attention.
I finally realized that my personal crisis of growing up without my dad was actually a national crisis. And I was deeply inspired to do something about it. Then, National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) came into my life. From the moment I heard about the organization in the late 1990s, I knew I wanted to be involved, and by 2001, I was serving as the new president. I felt incredibly blessed that I had been given the opportunity to take my desire to change the world, born of my own personal struggle, and turn it into real action.
I had moved from inspiration to action.
For its first 7 years of existence, NFI played a critical role in putting fatherhood on the national radar screen through research, national public service announcements, media appearances, and advocacy. When I came on board, I wanted that work to continue, but I also wanted to ensure that when a father came to realize that he needed to be a better dad, that he would have somewhere to turn. I wanted to ensure that when an organization – a prison, a hospital, a military base, a church, a Head Start, a YMCA – came to the realization that it had to serve the fathers in its community, that it would have somewhere to turn, too.
Since then, NFI has distributed over 6.1 million fatherhood skill-building materials to fathers and organizations around the country. We have trained nearly 12,000 fatherhood facilitators from over 5,500 organizations on how to deliver high-quality fatherhood programming into their communities. We have worked with all five branches of the military, with prisons in every state, and with community-based organizations, such as Head Starts, YMCAs, Salvation Army, and Catholic Charities. We also have supported countless smaller community-serving organizations, helping them create and execute plans to educate and equip the fathers in their neighborhoods.
On the fatherhood issue, National Fatherhood Initiative has moved the nation from inspiration to implementation. We have helped turn the growing awareness of the importance of involved, responsible, and committed fatherhood into growing action to give men the skills they need to be the kinds of fathers their children need them to be.
All these years later, I still have moments when I am that lonely boy waiting for my dad. But that pain is now happiness when I think about all the fathers who we have helped connect or reconnect with their children. This important work is changing lives, but more needs to be done. We don’t have a fatherless child to spare.
Roland C. Warren is the President of the National Fatherhood Initiative.