Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday)
FATHERS OF INSPIRATION
South Side dad uses Facebook to read uplifting books to kids amid pandemic, unrest
Nonprofit leader Joseph Williams sees all of the intellectually dishonest comments that surface when Black communities have a visceral reaction to police brutality.
“Fix your own communities!” “What about Black-on-Black Crime?”
“Do Black lives matter to Black people?”
It’s a common lament for Williams, who wears numerous hats as a Black man, a father, a husband and a South Sider, along with being at the head of “Mr. Dad’s Father’s Club,” a nonprofit organization that mentors local children by reading inspirational books to them.
“That’s what motivates me the most to continue to do the work that I’m doing, not just in the community but with my program,” Williams says. “I believe this program can possibly be something that can help curb gun violence; something that can help curb a lot of the stuff that we’re seeing happening in our communities again. I believe that a male presence and having guidance makes a huge difference.
“When you look at the rioting and the looting, I think this is something that probably well overdue. When you put people in a condition, and you’re depressed, and you’ve kept your foot on people’s necks for so long, there’s a time when people want to speak up, and they want to have something to say about it.”
Williams, 31, a former 15th Ward aldermanic candidate and the father of five children (four girls and one boy), is the chairman of Beasley Academic Center’s Parent Advisory Council and the local school council.
He knows the game is rigged. And he isn’t waiting for someone else to save his community.
“When you look at how the system was built, it was never built for our communities to really be successful,” Williams says. “The pandemic is showing us everything that’s possible for South and West Side communities and in Black and Brown communities; it’s showing us what’s possible for us. … Internet could have been free for children. We see now that our kids that are going to school could have been taking laptops home to do the work that they need to do so they don’t have to just go home and have nothing.”
After a brush with the law in his early 20s, Williams decided to be the change he wants to see in his community. His father wasn’t around much, so he makes sure his children won’t have to deal with the trials and tribulations he dealt with.
Mr. Dad’s Father’s Club was founded in 2017 as a pilot program at Beasley. Since the program can’t meet at a Beasley during the pandemic, Williams does a Facebook Live video at noon on Fridays from his Bronzeville home, where he reads inspirational books such as “One Busy Day” and “I Like Myself!” to the program’s kids.
“The ultimate goal is to get fathers back involved, and fathers are actually involved,” Williams says. “But how do we increase that in our communities and really build it up and not just help our children but help our families?”
Today, Williams says his program has 150 like-minded men — fathers, stepfathers, grandfathers, uncles, cousins, concerned citizens — as members.
“We’re not just reading and doing mentoring, but you also got fathers who can come in and they can get the support that they need,” Williams says. “Because fathers want to help their kids, but they need support, too. I’ve met fathers that I’m helping get custody of their kids and need help getting an ID and a birth certificate.”
South Side resident Ray Keller has known Williams for a long time. Their children all attend Beasley. After joining with Williams, he decided to do something similar with his own children.
“The story time he does with the kids and how[Williams] reads to his own children as well,” says Keller, a Mr. Dad’s Father’s Club member. “He has a special hour. That rubbed off on me. And now I do story time with my kid. More than what I used to do. Now, we have a time scheduled.”
Williams has big plans for Mr. Dad’s.
“We would love to [build] a community center where we’re having our program on a regular basis to help serve and protect our children,” he says. “We want to make sure we continue to boost our children because we live in a community where children are exposed to so much. Someone has to help cope with that.”