CHICAGO – Sometimes having a father can make the difference between a good life and a bad life. Not every child grows up with a father, and that is the sad reality for many children on the South Side of Chicago. Some of these children, however, are blessed with single mothers who work a job or two yet find the time to mother. What about the unlucky children?
On the 36th day of his 100-day rooftop vigil to raise funds to build a community center — also described as an opportunity center — Pastor Corey Brooks spoke with Tim Richards who grew up with a father and is a pipefitter by trade.
"(You’re) a young man who grew up in the hood in the midst of gangs, in the midst of turmoil, in the midst of difficulties, but was able to escape all of that and do something with (your) life," said the pastor. "How did you end up learning to be a pipefitter?"
"It was kind of forced upon me," Richards smiled. "I grew up in the trades and so (my father) was teaching me how to work on boilers and furnaces … He made me go down there and sign up" to be a pipefitter.
"Man, let me ask you a question," said the pastor. "Some of your friends who didn’t have dads in their life to make them get up and learn a trade, where are they? What are they doing?"
"It’s unfortunate," replied Richards as painful memories ran through his head. "A lot of them, you know, are deceased or in jail."
"That’s what we’re trying to prevent. That’s the reason why we’re trying to build this [community center]," said the pastor. "I promote fathers being in their child’s life, but we all know that’s not gonna happen in a lot of cases on the South Side. But we gotta build institutions that come alongside these single mothers and give these young brothers a trade."
Richards nodded along in agreement. Then the pastor’s smile widened.
"One of the things I loved about you is that you work hard. Nobody has to tell you to get up. You’re not lazy is what I’m saying. You’re not depending on government. You’re not depending on me," said the pastor. "You actually get out there and hustle and do it."
"I appreciate it," replied Richards.
The pastor then returned to the issue of fatherless men. "Do you think we could be successful if we get other men these opportunities?"
"Definitely," said Richards. He went on to say that he has been around the pastor’s church for more than a decade and has witnessed many successes. He marveled that it was his buddy, Raffa, who built the massive rooftop deck where the pastor is living for 100 days, a feat that many builders would find challenging. "It would be advantageous for us to pull young men into the trades."
"That’s the reason why we got Project H.O.O.D.," said the pastor, who has worked tirelessly for years to offer vocational training from construction to electrical work.
While the pastor knows that he and Project H.O.O.D. can never replace the father, they can offer direction and a purpose in life to many fatherless youths. It is the only hope, in the words of the pastor, to "get people in trades, get people a job, give them a work ethic, help them to become everything that they can be."
For more information, please visit Project H.O.O.D.
Eli Steele is a documentary filmmaker and writer. His latest film is "What Killed Michael Brown?" Twitter: @Hebro_Steele.
Camera by Terrell Allen