GR program boosts African-American fathers’ success

Undated courtesy photo of Patrick Knight and his family.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) -– A group in Kent County working to help give African-American fathers tools to be a successful and involved parent continues to grow.

The Strong Fathers initiative, a program led by the Grand Rapids African American Health Institute, began in 2011.

It was the agency’s response to health experts discovering a large gap between the infant mortality rates of African-American and Caucasian families.

While their start was aimed at health tips for new dads, the group focuses on fostering closer bonds so their kids can have better futures.

“You’re dealing with some dads who have never had a dad in they (sic) life,” said Tony Jolliffi, the fatherhood coordinator.

Fatherhood Coordinator, Tony Jolliffi, smiles with two GRPD officers during an August 2016 event.
Fatherhood Coordinator, Tony Jolliffi, smiles with two GRPD officers during an August 2016 event.

Free workshops, community events, and drop-in barber shop talks are a few ways Jolliffi and his team reach African-American fathers in the Grand Rapids area.

They provide educational resources for parenting and tips to be more present in their children’s lives.

“Last year we conducted over 400 home visits with dads,” Jolliffi told 24 Hour News 8.

Home visits are the group’s main service.

Strong Fathers’ representatives provide new dads with resources explaining things like the best ways to put babies to sleep and proper car seat safety.

Patrick Knight said car seat help was huge for him. He joined the group more than 2 years ago.

“Coming from a culture that I grew up in, communication was just not big,” Knight said.

Knight grew up in a single mother home. He now has five kids. Two of them don’t live with Knight and his wife, but he’s stayed determined to fulfill his fatherhood duties.

“It definitely is more of challenge when they’re [kids] outside of your home, but it just takes a little bit more effort,” Knight told 24 Hour News 8.

Knight explained that effort goes a long way for kids’ future and it can be as simple as joining your kids’ school mailing lists and having meaningful daily conversations after school.

“You just gotta step up to the plate and be there actively,” he said.

Strong Fathers will hold an event for single mothers on Feb. 26 and Feb. 28. It’s called “Dad Talk: Single Moms Raising Sons.”



Strong Fathers