On Thursday, September 16, 2021, just weeks into the school year, two groups of boys brawled across the courtyard at Southwood High School in Shreveport, Louisiana. The following day, two groups of girls picked up where the boys had left off. In a mere two days, 23 students were in police custody. One student was charged with battery for allegedly hitting an assistant principal. Another was charged with threatening a resource officer and a staff member.
When a school administrator told her former classmate Craig Lee, a business owner and community activist, that gang tensions were rising, Lee wanted to do something. He contacted Michael La’Fitte, a fellow activist, who had an 11th-grade daughter at Southwood. That Sunday, the two held an emergency meeting with parents and the principal. By the end of the four-hour session, a group of the fathers in attendance had decided it was time to make their presence known on campus.
“We’re dads,” La’Fitte told CBS News. “The best people to take care of our kids are who? Us.”
Dads on Duty
That’s how Dads on Duty was born. Its goal: Make sure the kids are safe. Around 40 men organized into six-person shifts, with two shifts on campus every day. They started the day after the meeting. These dads are business owners, truck drivers, chefs, and financial advisers who sacrifice their own schedules and commitments. Some are fathers of kids at the school, while others are uncles, grandfathers, brothers, and men like Lee, who doesn’t have a child at Southwood but wants the youth in his community to know they have an entire village behind them.
Now, anyone who wants to enter the school with rage and a closed fist will have to dodge boisterous papa bears, big smiles, positive affirmations, and a plethora of dad jokes. It’s hard to be a tough guy when somebody’s uncle has just tricked you into checking your shoelaces for the umpteenth time, only to find that they are not, in fact, untied.
Since Dads on Duty arrived on campus, fights have drastically declined, and gang battles have stopped completely. “The school has been happy, you can feel it,” said one student. Another told the Washington Post, “They interact with all the kids like we’re their own children.”
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Giving students someone to turn to
But it’s not just corny jokes and bubbly good mornings that have healed Southwood. It’s the Positive Presence Promotion, developed by Dads on Duty to make sure every student feels as if someone is invested in their success.
That means taking an interest in home lives, engaging in dialogue about entrepreneurship and alternatives to gang culture, sponsoring essay contests, and ultimately, making sure every kid has an adult they trust to turn to in times of crisis.
The dads aren’t meant to replace security guards or disciplinarians. If they do see a fight, they get security or an assistant principal on the scene ASAP. Their presence is meant to be more preventive than reactionary.
For instance, one day after school, Dad on Duty Mike Morgan noticed that a student who’d been bullied was milling about outside with friends. Morgan suspected they were lying in wait for the student’s tormentor. Morgan found the bully and steered him clear of the area, likely avoiding an assault. It was a situation requiring more delicacy and a personal investment than law enforcement or security might have offered.
The Shreveport dads have already partnered with fathers in other parts of the country, who have followed their example. Groups in Henderson, Nevada; Little Rock, Arkansas; and Jackson, Mississippi, have formed versions of Dads on Duty, Lee says.
As La’Fitte told People, the more the merrier. “We’d like this to be the same as the PTA—something that is in every school in every county.”
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Originally Published: May 13, 2022