“You’ve got to treat those kids as if they’re all yours,” said Zachery Johnson, a member of the Dads on Duty.
The group is composed of about 40 dads tied to Southwood High School in Shreveport, Louisiana. The predominantly Black school had experienced a string of violent fights resulting in about two dozen student arrests this year, and those fathers have stepped into the breach to help their community resolve a crisis.
The violence stemmed from gang altercations that spilled over onto school campus. Parents pleaded with Caddo Parish School Board members in late September to address the violence in a meaningful way.
“My daughter came home and said she was fearful to return to school because of threats made on her life,” said Chandra Baker, a Southwood High School parent.
Caddo Parish Superintendent Dr. T. Lamar Goree addressed the violence in a news conference on Sept. 17, after more than a dozen students were arrested.
Southwood High School Principal Dr. Kim Pendleton attributes the violence to the pandemic, students returning to school after a year of virtual learning, and the gang violence in the surrounding neighborhoods.
“It was just an example of a microcosm of what was happening in the community as a whole, we had a lot of shootings and gang violence. Every day someone was getting shot,” said Dr. Pendleton.
Pendleton knew she had to create a safer environment for her students, so she sought help from the school district and parents. After a few meetings, some of the parents took it upon themselves to reclaim their neighborhood school and the students who go there. By early October, with the support of the principal and superintendent, Dads on Duty was formed.
“I sat with the fathers, and I gave them expectations and the expectations were, I did not want them to be the disciplinarian,” said Pendleton.
The dads part of the group have fulltime jobs, and most do not have a college degree, but Pendleton says they are hardworking men impassioned to make a difference.
“These fathers came from the inner city, and they worked very hard to get their families into this community, and they want to make sure they preserve what they’ve worked very hard for,” said Pendleton.
The fathers roam the halls in shifts of about 5 to 8 throughout the school day greeting students, encouraging them to go to class and counseling them when they encounter issues that would have previously resulted in violence.
Pendleton says once the fathers came to campus, the constant fights suddenly stopped. Zachery Johnson is one of the fathers in the group and has four kids at the school. He credits Dads on Dity’s success to providing love and support.
“We eliminated all the fighting, all the beef, we eliminated all of that with one simple thing, and I’ll tell you what it is: love,” said Johnson.
“For so long, folks have told young people what they need to do as opposed to sitting back and listening to them,” said Michael LaFitte II, another of the Dads on Duty members.
Pendleton echoed Toni Morrison’s “it takes a village to raise a child” maxim, and the success of Dads on Duty is living proof, she says.