More than a million fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and father figures are expected to accompany their children to the first day of school in the U.S. this year, inspired by the vision of 10 men who met in a Chicago church basement eight years ago.
Phillip Jackson, one of the co-founders of the Million Father March, describes a program that has grown organically from 40 cities in 2004 to 767 in 2011, the first year the movement hit an estimated "more than a million" mark.
"There are so many cities where the Million Father March morphs into other activities," says Jackson. Communities that have put their own signature on the effort to get dads to take their children to school include:
- Duvall County, Fla., where the school district is asking fathers to sign up for a commitment to volunteer 10 hours during the school year;
- Philadelphia, Pa., where this is the fifth year of participation, and fathers are asked to spend the day in school with their children;
- The Inland Empire in California, which started a "Back-to-School" parade to kick off the event, and cities like Chicago have picked up on it;
- Volunteer "stand-in" fathers are ready in some parts of the country as well, to fill in for fathers who are in the military, or those who are incarcerated, cannot accompany their sons and daughters to school.
- Broward County, Fla., where at the behest of Board of Education member Benjamin Williams, fathers sign in and are counted—so the county knows that last year 36,000 participated.
"When you think about all the school districts out there, if they all paid the same attention to this, we could easily get 3 or 4 million fathers to participate," said Jackson.
A program of the Black Star Project, the Million Father March has grown to have a massive impact, said Jackson. He noted that thus far about 500 cities have signed up for involvement this year. School districts, religious groups, organizations, and individuals spearhead the movement in different cities.
Jackson recalls the evening when the co-founders—nine black men and a Latino man—came up with the idea for the march. They took inspiration from Louis Farrakhan's 1995 Million Man March on Washington, and the South American custom in some communities for fathers to attend schools on the last day of the year to thank everyone, from teachers to janitors, for educating their children.
"We used to get people from all over the country who would ask, 'Can we participate in the Million Father March, but we're white?' Or, 'We're Latino.' Or, 'We're Pakistani.' Now they don't even ask. They just do it," said Jackson, reflecting his pride in the fact that it is becoming a tradition without any boundaries.