- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 1, 2001

On a hot Saturday afternoon, some area men gathered inside a cool gray room at the Washington Convention Center to discuss their deepest fears and darkest secrets about bringing up children.
No women were allowed in here. This was a males-only conference and, as coordinator Asar Mustafa said, they wanted to make sure there were no distractions at the series of workshops, though children were encouraged to attend.
Seated on a dais in one workshop, instructor Rahim Jenkins told one worried father about his own background his involvement with drugs and crime and how he got off the street and learned to take responsibility for his five children.
In another room next door, the compactly built Duvon Winborne cracked open coconuts with his bare hands to demonstrate to young children that what you see is often not what you get.
"I try to use a different approach to get their attention," said Mr. Winborne, a psychologist with the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). He said he was trying to make the children understand the importance of staying away from a life of violence and drugs.
These were all scenes from the Males Only Mini Conference held yesterday at the Washington Convention Center in Northeast. The conference, attended by about 100 men and a handful of children, was aimed at any man who is involved in a child's life directly or indirectly, organizers said.
"A lot of men cannot communicate with their children," said Mr. Mustafa, who works as a parental involvement coordinator with DCPS. The school system organized the conference along with the Greater Washington Urban League. "There is no male presence in the lives of the majority of the students in DCPS," he said.
However, male involvement in their children's lives is on the rise, said Trinette Hawkins, director of the Office of Parent Affairs in DCPS. She said a recent survey showed that 40 percent of the Parent-Teacher Associations in the District's public schools were headed by men.
The conference was divided into five workshops, including parenting skill development, men as nurturers, staying involved in a child's education, and legal and custodial rights.
At a workshop on communicating with the child and mother, Derrick Dewberry said he was wondering if he should adopt his ex-wife's son by another man who had since disappeared from the boy's life.
Mr. Jenkins advised him to give the boy his love and care without actually adopting the boy in case the boy's real father wanted him back. "If you can be there for him, that is enough," said Mr. Jenkins, a community activist who believes that to be a good father one "needs to be a decent, principled man."
Later, Mr. Dewberry, of Greenbelt, said the conference had reaffirmed his own beliefs. "I didn't want to rob the boy's father of his parental rights," he said, adding that he was glad he had come. "I feel as if I have better ammunition now to be a good father," he said.
Michael White came with his 8-year-old nephew, Anthony, who lost his own father when he was 2.
A resident of Northeast, Mr. White said he had not always been the ideal parent. "I would like to think I could give myself a grade of B, or maybe C-plus," he said.
When he was younger, he said, "I was too busy trying to make my mark in the world and didn't spend quality time with my children." Now, he said, he was working to rebuild his relationship with his older son and working to be a better father to his other son and nephew.
"I know a lot of improvement is still needed … You can always learn more," he said.

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