- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2006

“Every day is Father’s Day with us,” says Earl Robinson-El, founder and executive director of Youth Inc.

“Kids need love in their life all the time, not just one day of the year, and whenever they need us, we’re there for them,” Mr. Robinson-El says.

Mr. Robinson-El knows. He had a hardworking, disciplinarian of a father, who died when he was 12. He also has been “blessed to have been involved” in the lives of three daughters, now successful career women.

Now, this ex-offender’s passionate mission is to teach young men and teens “the difference between being a young baby’s daddy and being a young father.”

“It takes a real man to be a father,” he says.

Youth Inc., Young and Old Unite Through Help and other community-based organizations receive little public notice or government assistance, although they have helped dozens of young men — some from Oak Hill detention center for juvenile offenders — get degrees and get jobs.

In fact, yesterday he tried to secure summer jobs for four juveniles, even paying for their documentation, such as birth certificates, before the deadline.

Tomorrow, Mr. Robinson-El and his colleagues in Youth Inc., Parent Watch and Miracle Hands are hosts of a Father’s Day celebration at Oak Hill as part of their Young Fathers Initiative.

Family members — including parents, children and their mothers — will have an opportunity to meet and mingle because “we want the babies to see that they have fathers and mothers,” Mr. Robinson-El says.

“We’re trying to keep our neighborhoods safe through mediation and preventing [crime] before it happens,” he says. “They would like to organize a network of community groups so each child in the District has someone to go to when in need.

“But we have to have resources so we can try to make a difference in these kids’ lives.”

Though he spent many years incarcerated, Mr. Robinson-El eventually earned a degree from Morgan State University before starting his nonprofit mentoring organization. Like a prideful father, he boasts about his proteges — including Walker Tre Johnson, 24, lead singer of the popular D.C. go-go band Uncalled 4 Experience. Like others, Mr. Johnson followed in his mentor’s footsteps by earning degrees and owning homes after troublesome starts. Like others, he is now a mentor himself.

“If we had more examples of the good, someone might say ‘maybe I can do that,’” Mr. Robinson-El says.

These community organizations, based in Northeast, operate a truce hot line, a rapid-response team and one-on-one mentoring. “We’re in the streets 24/7 trying to stop this violence and this killing. The beefing thing with these kids is terrible,” Mr. Robinson-El says.

“We’re trying to give back,” he says, because the mentors don’t want to see young men repeating their past patterns. Many of the incarcerated juveniles and young men he encounters had no father present or a strained relationship with their father.

As Mr. Robinson-El says, “The police can’t do it all; the social worker can’t do it all; and the probation officer can’t do it all.” One key, often the missing link, is the presence of a father.

“Look at our kids. There is no discipline and no respect,” Mr. Robinson-El continues, which he attributes to the lack of a father figure to be a strong guide for children.

He quickly states that “it takes love from both parents.” And, both parents must be there to give direction and discipline and to raise children who know about laws and limits. It doesn’t matter if the parents are together, he adds.

“My children’s mothers were all good women who made me be there for my children and kept the lines of communication open,” he says.

Mr. Robinson-El collaborates with Cornel Jones, executive director of Miracle Hands, and Amin Muslim in their joint Fatherhood Coalition program. The materials they use to work with young fathers come from the Miami-based ARISE fatherhood organization. The lessons includes life-skills management; the importance of a father’s responsibility; how to raise a happy, mentally healthy child; and how to be a healthy parent while raising a healthy child.

“You have to go beyond the first page, the feel-good page … otherwise you haven’t moved toward full parenthood,” repeats Mr. Muslim, also an outreach worker with the Edgewood-Brookland Family Support Collaborative.

As part of their plans to help young fathers, the coalition is turning their Northeast warehouse space into a vocational learning center. They hope to teach trades to ex-offenders so the young men and women can secure higher-paying jobs and stay employed in order to care for their young children.

“As part of our young father’s initiative, we are trying to do something with those young brothers every month, every day,” Mr. Robinson-El says.

Would that more men, young and old, would “man up” and become fathers rather than merely “baby daddies.”

For more information, Miracle Hands and Youth Inc. are at 2127 Queens Chapel Road NE, 202/832-7744. Parent Watch is at 1000 Mount Olivet Road NE, 202/576-8386

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