According to the latest U.S. Census Bureau report, more than 25 million children now live apart from their biological fathers. That's a 15.3 percent increase (eight to 23.3 percent) from 1960 to 2006. But communities such as Harlem face the biggest challenges. Nearly two in three (65 percent) of African-American children live in fatherless homes, and 80 percent of those children can expect to live at least a part of their childhood living apart from their fathers.
Along with ESPN NBA analyst Chris Broussard, rapper Styles P, actor Chaz Lamar Shepherd and NBA player Etan Thomas, Stoudemire and Houston -- who are all fatherhood activists through different initiatives -- discussed the topic of fatherhood and manhood in multiple ways. The event also featured poems on the topics by spoken-word artists J. Ivy, Julian Thomas and Messiah Ramkissoon.
Thomas, a nine-year NBA veteran, was inspired to organize the event at First Corinthian Baptist Church in his birthplace neighborhood while working this year on President Obama's National Fatherhood Initiative. He also recently released a book called "Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge."
Stoudemire, who also has a new book out for children called "STAT: Home Court," talked about losing his father, Hazell, at 12 years old, and how he turned to hip-hop, listening to 2Pac and The Notorious B.I.G. for direction. Now, as an entertainer himself, he understands the importance of helping under-served children find their way. And he wants fathers to have that commitment with their own children. Even in his 10th year in the NBA, Stoudemire, who has three kids, still feels pro athletes have a lot of work to do.
"We have to be kings of the world, leaders, so we can build kings of the world," he said. "What they see on TV is that we got the big money, the big cars, the beautiful homes. But we've got to figure out ways to be positive influences to the youth because they follow us. Whatever we do, they want to do. We have to tell them to stay in school and keep their heads up. I was a history buff growing up. It seems like it's not cool to be smart, but it is."
Stoudemire said that African-Americans who have reached his level of success need to use their wealth to develop more outlets for the youth to do well in inner-city communities, where images of money are often linked to dysfunctional activity. As the panelists pointed out, that's because many children lack positive male role models to help guide them. Then, their personal losses can lead to repressed anger and potentially troublesome behavior, such as selling drugs, joining gangs and difficulty adjusting to school -- the three biggest problems facing kids with absent fathers in inner-city communities.
Stoudemire struck a chord when he told the audience of roughly 500 that there are more murders in the South Side of Chicago than there are in Afghanistan.
"Right now we're still in the hood, and (we as pro athletes) have the resources to build a nation within a nation," said Stoudemire, who was honored as a "Father of the Year" in 2011 by the National Father’s Day Council. "It's not that long ago when we came out of slavery, and it seems like we are programmed not to succeed. We need to find ways to heal our people. We need to create a better image for young people. We need to patch up their souls.
"We do have influence; we have a black president. But we need to stand together more. Celebrities and athletes generate billions of dollars, and we need to find a way to come together and rise to the occasion. We need to take advantage of our opportunities."
Broussard was impressed with Stoudemire's words, and he said that more African-American athletes need to have a black consciousness like the Knicks power forward.
"A lot of players don't have the knowledge, but what you hear Amare Stoudemire saying, that's knowledge. And I didn't even know Amare had that knowledge," Broussard said. "A lot of the wealthiest African-Americans are entertainers and athletes, and when they get that multimillion dollar contract, then they have to make sure they use that platform, that money and their connections to help our people. A lot of black entertainers and athletes don't recognize that."
Houston, who recently celebrated his 16th wedding anniversary and has seven children, said he's a product of his father, Wade, who was always around while he was growing up. The former Knick, who runs his own fatherhood organization called "Father Knows Best," is even working to help NBA players connect with their fathers and children.
"When I got to the NBA and I saw that a lot of the guys didn't have the experience that I had, it was different for me," said Houston, who's currently the Knicks' assistant GM. "But what I went through with my father should be the standard. He set the example for me about how to be a great father. We can't do that unless we have great connections to our kids."
Houston said the three main keys for becoming a great father are helping kids understand their identity, setting a good example and communicating with them as often as possible.
"Regarding social and public policy, we are all in a fight," he said. "We need to take up skills and engage kids, and listen to kids. When we walk out of this church tonight, we have to continue this conversation about fatherhood."
At the conclusion, pastor Michael A. Walrond Jr. told each of the panelists that they embodied something powerful and to hold themselves accountable to continue their fight to combat fatherlessness. The most important message: It takes a man and woman to make a child, and it's going to take a man and woman to raise a child.
"Create that kingdom," Stoudemire said. "There needs to be a lion and lioness. Make sure you find the right queen -- and stay with her."
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