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CHICAGO- Perhaps the worst thing about growing up in a home without a father for a child is the feeling of abandonment. In the lives of these children, there will be a defining moment when they realize that they have no father at home or in their lives. Coping skills vary from child to child, but most will wonder why their dad isn’t around. Why doesn’t he like them? Was it something they did? If they are lucky, they will have someone strong in their life; a strong mother and/or surrogate father figure, who is willing to invest in them, hold them accountable, and teach them to be responsible citizens.
But many children are unlucky. This issue of abandonment has profound consequences, not only for the child but for society as a whole.
Pastor Corey Brooks was a fatherless child. When he found his calling to set up his ministry on Chicago’s South Side where 80% of homes are fatherless, he made it his mission to ease the sense of abandonment among children. He tells them that he loves them. It sets educational, professional and behavioral expectations for them. More importantly, he makes sure they understand he is always there and available.
The pastor knows that this issue of abandonment is rarely discussed in the media, think tanks and other American institutions. That’s why on the 60th day of his 100-day rooftop vigil to raise money to build a community center to address fatherlessness, he invited Florida businessman George O’Neil, on the roof for the second time. This time they were joined by George’s wife, Erica.
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“I was that kid. An absent father, never there, never present,” the pastor began. “I remember how I always felt a sense of abandonment and a feeling of rejection.”
“Most people don’t understand what a terrible burden it is, but it weighs heavily on many children who don’t know where their dad is or why he doesn’t come to see them,” George said. “A lot of kids like that end up getting into trouble and drug issues…and it causes all kinds of terrible pathologies that are destructive to people.”
“Absolutely,” agreed the pastor.
Fatherlessness has been on the rise in America for many decades and across all racial and class lines. According to justice department data published in 1998, children from fatherless homes accounted for 63% of youth suicides, 90% of all homeless and runaway youth, 85% of all children with behavioral problems, 71% of all dropouts high school, 70% of youth in state-operated institutions, 75% of adolescent patients in addiction centers, and 75% of rapists motivated by misplaced anger. These statistics are probably worse today.
Before marrying George, Erica had a son in a previous relationship and had been a single mother since she was 6 years old. However, her son avoided the fate of abandonment.
Her son’s father “wasn’t home anymore, but he was spending time with our son regularly and my son loved spending time with him,” Erica said. “He was a current father.”
The pastor nodded, knowing that something as simple as that made all the difference.
“I really believe that one of the things that saved me in the midst of feeling abandoned and rejected by my father was the fact that I had a community center where I had the most wonderful mentors,” said Pastor. “I had an awesome elementary teacher, father figure and mentor in my life. His name is Joe Stokes…Having him there meant so much.”
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“You always have to have people to guide you,” George said, acknowledging his luck to have a strong father as well as other men around. “But if your father is not present, we must help find people to help these children grow.”
That’s why he was so passionate about supporting the pastor’s efforts to build a community center. Fatherlessness as a crisis in America is only growing, especially in South Chicago, and our society is already paying a heavy price for it.
Children “can’t do it without an example and guidance,” George said. “If they don’t have anything, they end up in a gang and the gang is terrible. I mean, we had a shootout here this afternoon.”
“A very bad shooting,” the pastor said.
“Forty shots were fired a block away, and that’s because there are kids running around in gangs because their dads weren’t there,” George said.
“We all have this innate desire to belong and be part of something,” Erica said. “If you can’t stand something, you fall for anything.”
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George and Erica don’t say empty words. They have been heavily involved with Warner University to develop individuals committed to helping fatherless children break the generational curses that come with fatherlessness.
“If you can find this larger community willing to invest in and bring that passion to young people, that’s transformational,” Erica said. “It’s life changing for them.”
Look no further than the pastor, who was blessed with a father figure in his life as a child. Then the pastor went out into the world where he served as a father figure to countless young people. The hope is that these children will continue their good work when the time comes.
Follow as Fox News checks in on Pastor Corey Brooks with a new one every day rooftop revelation.
For more information, please visit CAPOT project
Eli Steele is a documentary filmmaker and writer. His latest film is “What Killed Michael Brown?” Twitter: @Hebro_Steele.
Camera by Terrell Allen.