Michael Starks was giddy about the first day of school.

Michael Starks was giddy about the first day of school.

It is one day where he can do something most people take for granted: Seize the opportunity to walk his 11-year-old daughter, Keshawdra, to school.

“I have walked her school every day,” Starks said. “I’m the father. It is a 24-hour job, and I appreciate it.”

That sentiment was shared by many fathers – and mothers, of course – who accompanied their kids to the front door of Catalyst-Howland Charter School, 1616 S. Spaulding Ave., on a chilly Tuesday morning.

Focus was on the fathers, as part of the Million Father March effort to get dads to take their students to school on the first day.

Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., made an appearance at the school to charge the K-8 grade students and their parents during an assembly before the opening bell rang.

“Fathers play an important role in children lives,” Davis said. “It takes men to help make a society and a community, teaching boys what they want to be like when they become men. It is nothing like the first day of school.”

An brigade of more than one million American men were expected to take to the streets this year across the country as part of the Million Father March.

"Education has become a matter of national security,” said Philip Jackson, executive director of The Black Star Project and coordinator of the march. “If we cannot control our schools, then we cannot control our economy. And if we cannot control our economy, then we cannot control and protect our quality of life in America."

The men who participated in the event included janitors, lawyers, doctors, technicians, factory workers, bankers, bus drivers, construction workers, policemen and trash collectors, Jackson said.

A record 767 cities were expected to participate in the march that was founded by a small group of South Side men in 2004.

Last year, more than 800,000 men in 609 cities around the world

took children to school on the first day. In addition to Tuesday’s efforts, the Black Star Project held other events to bolster the march, including inviting high school alumni to be outside their respective alma maters to welcome students to class there, holding a parade Saturday down Cottage Grove Avenue from 45th to 51st Streets and involving faith leaders to perform simultaneous prayers at 9 a.m. Tuesday in front of some schools in support of safe passage and a successful school for the students.

Jackson said men being heavily involved in the educational pursuits of children will result in better grades, higher test scores and increase their chances of graduating from high school.

“This is great,” said Catalyst-Howland case manager Dr. Michael James about the initiative. “Black men need to set a precedent for Black boys that is it OK to be smart.”

Curtis Payne, 48, of North Lawndale, who walked three young relatives to school, said men need to be role models to help them be successful.

“If they see me giving the effort, then they will be better for it,” Payne said.

“It makes me feel great knowing that I am there for my kids,” said Robert Hart, 28, of Englewood, who took his two children to Ashburn Elementary School, 8300 S. St. Louis Ave. “My kids are happy when I take them to school and pick them up.”

Additionally, the Black Star Project is asking fathers and other men to volunteer 10 hours of service to their children’s school for a total of 10 million hours of service by the end of the school year.

“We also ask fathers and other men pledge to support children throughout the year,”

Jackson said. “The pledge calls for and outlines a yearlong commitment to their children and to the schools they attend.”

Copyright 2011 Chicago Defender

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