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Be firm, be consistent, be present

Out of The Ashes - Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Children have a knack for doing some of the most confounding things. Some days you pour out all of your wisdom from
decades of successes and failures only to have them totally disregard everything you said. IT HURTS!

We want to be able to guide our children and make their decisions for them at times. How did that work for us when
we were teenagers and young adults.

We can only guide and stick to our principles and proven practices.
We can only be the same person day in and day out, unwavering in our support (however that may look).
Most importantly we must be present in our child's life. Even as they get older they will still turn to you and your voice should be there.

The light in their eyes.

Out of The Ashes - Saturday, August 13, 2016
I had an opportunity to enjoy one of life's simple pleasures. Watching my grandchildren play.
My middle grandson is turning 4 tomorrow. See if him and his siblings play and enjoy the love of their parents warms my heart.

Children do better when they have both children in their life. Even if a parent is outside of the home children
do better academically and emotionally when they have the support of mother and father.

Sometimes it hurts and it can be challenging, but we have to keep the real goal in mind.
The light I see in my grandchildren's' eyes is the same light that guides a human vessel throughout lifes storms.
Make sure you do your all to ensure the light shines bright in them all.

"One for the home team"

Out of The Ashes - Thursday, August 11, 2016
I just want to send a shout out to the young men in my community who are stepping up to make a difference. Over the last few months we have been working hard to promote life and peace. Our sons are listening. Salute!

"They told me to be his friend, but I did not listen"

Out of The Ashes - Friday, July 29, 2016

When I first came home a lot of people told me to be my son's friend. I didn't listen to them. I knew that in that critical stage of my son's life that he needed his father.

​Unfortunately a lot of parents are making the mistake of trying to be their children's friends. Our are children our children look for guidance and structure from us. They do not look for the type of guidance and acceptance that they that they seek from their friends. Our children need for a level of support that surpasses friendship. They do not respect a parent who is more concerned with friendship than parenting. The contempt is forthcoming. 

​Ahmarr and I have grown our relationship under the most unlikely of circumstances. I think the uniqueness of our situation has made our relationship stronger. We continue to grow and to learn from one another. Even with coming in to his life in earnest at such a late point, there were/are still many lessons that I can teach him.  I am so thankful that we had the courage to make an attempt. I can not imagine how life would have been without him in my life. 

​Yes, they told me to be his friend at first.......But I did not listen.

Out of the Ashes Vlog: Processing with Drama Therapy

Out of The Ashes - Thursday, July 28, 2016

"When you were watching your father shave, I was cutting my throat."

Out of The Ashes - Thursday, July 28, 2016

The first time Ahmarr read this line we cried. It is a bitter pill to swallow- coming face to face with the pain
you caused your child by abandoning him. Every time he says these lines during our play, Out of the Ashes, my stomach aches.
All I can see is his 9 year old pudgy face with shaving cream and blood running down his neck.

Everyday across our cities and neighborhoods we watch our children cut their throat
through substance abuse, gun violence and giving up.
Out of the Ashes is a punch in the stomach for guys like me.
Fortunately my grandchildren will never feel the dull pain of not having a father in their life.

​Ahmarr and I continue to heal our relationship. We continue to grow together and be father and son.
He is an awesome father and powerful Blackman. 
It is never too late to teach our children how to stroke the blade gently with the grain of life.

If he is in a hole, jump down and show him the way up

Out of The Ashes - Wednesday, July 27, 2016
I hear a lot of people complain about the state of the youth today. Some people are even willing to give up on their own children. This is a hard thing to hear. Recently in my hometown there have been sweeping arrest of young men, many of which do not have a father in their life. I have worked with young people for quite some time now, going back to 1998 in Project Aware.

​The worse thing we can do is turn our back to our children. This will give them permission to embrace misguidance and even reinforce the idea that they have no one upon whom to depend. Keep working with your child. Continue to guide them to what is good. Sometimes when they are at their lowest point we must do all that we can to identify with their psychological pitfall  and help them to climb out of the hole. We haven't always been the responsible and respectable people that some of us are. Every ill that has a hold upon our children can be undone. We, just have to show them the way. 

The Payoff

Out of The Ashes - Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Yesterday evening Ahmarr and I spoke to two groups. The F.A.ME. program in the morning and Duffy's Hope in the evening.

During the F.AM.E. group our story resonated with three of the staff in a powerful way as they have experienced
diverse effects of absentee fathers. One person never knew his father, while another was preparing to meet his
incarcerated father-in-law for the first time, after being married for over 25 years.

In the evening groups a young man approached us after the session and said,
" I had to talk to you because I am going through the exact same situation as yours."
We had a private conversation and we plan to stay in touch.

Touching the hearts of men and boys who share our experience in a powerful way.......


US election: The year of the angry voter

Out of The Ashes - Wednesday, April 27, 2016

It's Tuesday, and I find myself once again covering the race for the United States presidency. I have lost count but I think this is the fourth of fifth Tuesday of election coverage. This isn't normal. Usually the fight for the nomination is wrapped up by now. If there is one thing you can say about 2016 this is by no means a typical year.

                                                 Changing the system

The people in those communities definitely don’t agree. I went for a tour of one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods with two men who grew up there. They explained the issues facing their community better than anyone else could do. Coley Harris and Dubard Mcgriff told me that when the crack epidemic swept through the city and the war on drugs was launched, the vast majority of the men in the community were sent to prison. 

Mcgriff didn't have a male role model at home, so he says he looked up to the drug dealers. They didn't struggle to eat, they had money, nice clothes and nice cars. He followed their lead and at 16 was sentenced to five years in prison for robbery. He was sent to an adult prison. Statistically both he and Harris, who spent 14 years behind bars for second degree murder, should have been sent back to prison soon after getting out. 

The recidivism rate for former prison inmates is incredibly high. They admit they were on that path, but then they met Charles Madden. He runs a charity called the HOPE Commission. They work with men getting out of prison. They develop a plan to help these ex-convicts. They determine what they need to live outside prison, jobs, a place to live or treatment for addiction. 

They haven’t been around for very long, but in just over a year he says that only 6 percent of the men they’ve worked with have been sent back to prison for committing another crime. I asked him what was the secret? He said it wasn’t magic, it is leadership and actually caring about the men they are helping.

He believes that until men are brought back into the community, the cycle of violence and poverty will only continue.

In his view, the government has set up a system that will insure it continues.

He said: "The social structures that are designed to help people are failing them and we know they are failing them. Anytime you have neighborhoods where 75 percent of the people drop out of high school or school, that system is failing the people. Any time you have correction institutions that were designed to rehabilitate people where 75 percent of people coming back to those institutions those institutions are failing and our leadership stands by and allows that to happen."           

Despite living among buildings that are falling down and rampant crime, my tour guides explained to me that this is a community that is resilient. They pointed out a man who was mowing the grass in a public square. It wasn’t his responsibility but he wanted his community to look nice. Mcgriff explained that the people who were driving the crime would rather not be, saying: "Even a lot of time they do horrible stuff they still want their children to have opportunities for the most part. They don’t want to do the things they are doing – they are disenfranchised."

The men I spoke with don’t think the politicians are actually interested in helping them, so they are working to help themselves and their community. Still, they know only the politicians can actually change the system. That might explain why so many are looking for something new, something different and someone from the outside. They think the system as it stands is the reason they see so much suffering.

So here I am with my team in Wilmington, Delaware. I spoke to a Trump voter as he was leaving after casting his ballot. He said he was enthusiastic about Trump because he’s a businessman and he can fix Washington. 

Bernie Sanders supporters will tell you basically the same thing with as much enthusiasm, Sanders can fix Washington because he is an outsider. The best way to describe this election cycle is as the year of the angry voter. It’s here that I saw exactly why so many are so angry.

This city is literally the poster child for income inequality in the US. Delaware is known for its friendly environment for corporations. There are in fact more corporations registered here than actual
people. The reason, they can register pretty much anonymously and they pay very low corporate taxes. These companies don’t actually have to physically locate here. There are plenty of corporations that have. There are some very expensive neighborhoods around here, a sign that corporate America is doing pretty well.

You can find the exact opposite just blocks away from these stately homes. Wilmington has an exceptionally high crime and poverty rate in certain areas. I asked a city council member if he thought they should raise the corporate tax rate even a little bit – a tenth of one percent – in order to pay for programmes to try and help the people who live in such desperate circumstances. He didn’t think they needed to do that. He pointed out that many of the corporations give to charities in the area.

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While Wilmington, DE has a High Rate of Father Absence, it Also Has One of the Best Fathers

Out of The Ashes - Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Wilmington, DE has one of the nation's highest rates of father absence in our nation (65.5%), followed closely by Detroit, MI (63.3%), and Birmingham, AL (61.5%). That's why when we hear a father-son story of healing, reconciliation, and connection coming out of this town, we've got to proclaim it from the rooftops! (OK, maybe not the rooftops, but indulge me for a minute.) 

This story will forever change your perspective on father absence and incarceration. It demonstrates how a person - and a relationship - can come out of the ashes. That relationship is a seed that can find life with commitment and determination.

So let's go back to Wilmington, DE where the story begins with, “ I’m this 18-year-old drug dealer, and I’m stressed out of my mind worrying about myself, my future, my child, and these kids are looking up to me, because I’m the leader at this point.” 

Much of the below originally appeared in a 2014 Newsweek article, MURDER TOWN USA (AKA WILMINGTON, DELAWARE).

we’ve got to fix men and fatherhood.”

Delaware’s recidivism rate is staggeringly high—nearly 70 percent of men released from jail will return within three years. In Wilmington, when these men return home, they find themselves in communities where 6 out of 10 men are either not participating in society or simply not around (i.e., incarcerated). “I don’t think the threat of incarceration is big enough. Because [a lot of these men are] hopeless,” says Charles Madden, executive director of the HOPE Commission which opened its doors last April 2014, mentors men returning home from prison. “Fundamentally, we’ve got to fix men and fatherhood.”

Sentenced to 16 years in prison.


One of those men, Coley Harris, (appearing as himself in the new film Out Of The Ashes: Where a Seed Finds Life recently released on DVD by NFI), represents the worst [a dad] can be and the best [a dad] can become. Coley grew up in a small row-house neighborhood wedged between two housing projects. His family went to church.

By the time he was in middle school, he had turned to the streets. Coley staged his first robbery when he was 12. He started skipping school, smoking weed. He also watched older guys make serious money selling cocaine and heroin. 

By the time his son was born, in 1991, Coley was doing pills, snorting cocaine and drinking. “I’m this 18-year-old drug dealer, and I’m stressed out of my mind worrying about myself, my future, my child, and these kids looking up to me, because I’m the leader at this point.”

In 1994, he shot and killed someone at a local barbecue, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and concealing a deadly weapon and was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

His son was a stranger.

Coley was released in 2008, after serving 14 years. He was 34. Although his son visited occasionally while he was in prison, his son was a stranger. 

But it wasn't until Coley got out of prison that the story really begins.

Chronicled in Out Of The Ashes: Where a Seed Finds Life, this new film details the struggle both men faced as they navigated their 14 year separation and reunion. Consequently, it symbolizes the struggle faced by incarcerated fathers and their children. To complement the film, NFI created a Facilitated Discussion guide to help incarcerated fathers, their children, and family members explore the issues, thoughts, and feelings caused by the father absence associated with incarceration. And to begin healing.

Their love is solid.

Today, Coley and his son are working to deepen their relationship. It takes diligence, perseverance, and forgiveness on both of their parts, but through encouragement and by challenging one another to excel, their love is solid.

Coley now works as the Director of Community and Special Programs for a national human services organization. In his "free time", Coley works with Cease Violence Wilmington, Make Your Mark Voter Registration Campaign for returning citizens, is a Victim Sensitivity guest speaker and guest lecture for the University of Delaware Black Americans Studies.

Coley's efforts to "pay it forward" by giving back to his community and being the best father he can be are to be commended. 

“There’s a large population of disenfranchised, poor, misguided young boys in this city who are dangerous,” Coley says. “I say that with empathy, because they didn’t wake up like that. It’s a direct result of neglect that came through the crack/cocaine/war on drugs era. It’s a result of guys like me causing hurt and harm on other people.

“I’m not proud of my past, but I have to share it because there’s a lot of young guys out here who believe life is over at a young age, just as I did. Listen, I was a shooter. When I was in the game, I was all the way in. But you never know the course your life will take. People or circumstances will stop you and spin you in totally different directions.”


Learn more about Coley's story by watching the Out Of The Ashes: Where a Seed Finds Life trailer here on FatherSource®.

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