http://t.co/8OHWt9W via @thegrio
By Todd Johnson
WATCH theGRIO'S TODD JOHNSON REPORT ON 'FATHER'S NOW'
Newark, NJ - Since he was 18, the 'streets' had always been Edward Slade's top priority.
When his children were born, that didn't change.
"I was basically a jailhouse dad," said Slade, who has two sons now, ages 10 and six. "I was into the streets still -- everything else was important to me besides my children."
According to a Pew Report released this week, one in four fathers with children 18 years or younger live apart from their children. Black fathers are more than twice as likely to live apart than white fathers.
Slade grew up not knowing his biological father and he says he did not get along with his stepfather. During his most recent incarceration in 2009, he learned of a program in his hometown of Newark designed to help fathers reconnect with their kids upon release.
"I lost my mother while I was locked up and I wasn't able to go to the funeral," Slade said. "I didn't want my two boys to have to feel that kind of pain - knowing their father was basically dying here, locked up, and they can't even see me. It was time for a change."
The program, Father's Now, combines tough love and parenting prep skills for men who need a blueprint.
"For the most part, the fathers that are here...are fathers that have been involved in the criminal justice system or just fathers in general who want to reconnect back into their kids life," said Abdul Muhammad, the program's co-director. "This is a program...made for men who...need to understand their purpose is greater than their struggle."
Slade completed the program in 2009 and hasn't had any contact with police for nearly two years. He describes spending time with his sons as a "beautiful feeling."
'Fathers Now', which was modeled after a Philadelphia initiative , is being replicated in other New Jersey cities and will open additional Pennsylvania locations soon.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker is a firm believer in the program, which he helped get off the ground in 2008 with a combination of private and public dollars. 'Fathers Now' is a part of Booker's 'Newark Now' initiative, which he started in 2003.
"We have to start dealing with these sort of institutional barriers to the success of our men," Booker said. "And if we work to remove them and empower [fathers] and not just talk down to them, 'Raise your kids...', you can be extraordinarily successful."
In three years, 'Fathers Now' has nearly 300 graduates. Nearly 70 percent of the men who complete the program have gotten jobs, pursued vocational training or GED programs or enrolled in college. While the recidivism rate for men in New Jersey surpasses 60 percent, 'Father's Now' graduates return to jail or prison at a less than three percent rate.
"I don't want to let [my sons] down," Slade says. "Them boys deserve everything I got to give. They deserve it."