North Philly parenting workshop aims to prevent gun violence, one father at a time

Shawn Porter shares experiences he’s had raising his 19 year-old daughter at the Institute for the Development of African American Youth on September 20, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Shawn Porter shares experiences he’s had raising his 19 year-old daughter at the Institute for the Development of African American Youth on September 20, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Working on a solution to gun violence and want to share it? Get in touch with gun violence prevention reporters Sammy Caiola and Sam Searles.

Shawn Porter, 37, says the rules in the home he shares with his 19-year-old daughter are crystal clear.

“No dishes in the sink,” Porter said. “I’m big on that. The house gotta be clean.”

It’s the kind of structure that participants in the Young Fathers United workshop are encouraged to put in place for their kids. The program, hosted by a gun violence prevention nonprofit called the Institute for the Development of African American Youth, aims to help Black men stay active in their childrens’ lives.

Lead facilitator David Edmonds says about half of participants are involved in the criminal justice system, and of those most committed robberies or carjackings.

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“A lot of them can’t see outside the box,” he said. “They live in it every day, that struggle. So they come here and they get that sense of peace, and they can sometimes get a different mindset.”

David Edmonds, Lead Facilitator at the Institute for the Development of African American Youth, leads a discussion with young fathers on Sept. 20, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

In Philadelphia, Black men are incarcerated at far higher rates than men of other races. They also make up the majority of shooting victims and perpetrators. 

That leaves thousands of Philadelphia’s Black children growing up without fathers in their homes, which some activists say can perpetuate the cycle of violence. Other community groups, including the House of Umoja, the Father’s Day Rally Committee, and the Fathership Foundation, also focus on parenting support as a means of prevention.

Robert Hayes shares experiences he’s had raising his 2 sons and daughter at the Institute for the Development of African American Youth on September 20, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The Institute’s 13-week fathering program, which began in August and gets support from the Philadelphia Department of Human Services, offers an alternative to probation for men who are involved in the criminal justice system.

Shiquon Alexander, 26, said he took that option so he could get support while raising his 3-year-old son.

“I was going through a situation and they pointed me in this direction,” he said. “They was helping me out when they gave me this program.”

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Shiquon Alexander shares experiences he’s had raising his children at the Institute for the Development of African American Youth on September 20, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Alexander said he likes being around other young dads, and he thinks a lot of guys his age need information about parenting basics.

“You might not know you gotta stay up until 6 in the morning with your kids every night, how to feed a bottle, how to change Pampers,” he said. “That type of stuff, everybody don’t get it.”

David Edmonds, Lead Facilitator at the Institute for the Development of African American Youth, leads a discussion with young fathers on September 20, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Edmonds says the class goes beyond those basic skills to instill self-worth in fathers.

“A lot of them feel helpless and hopeless,” he said. “They want certain things they don’t have. They’re impulsive. They don’t always think about the consequences of their behavior.”

Participants can get connected to jobs, therapy, and legal resources while taking the workshop. Edmonds also goes over how to talk to children about social media limitations, how to respond to temper tantrums, how to resolve conflicts with a child’s mother, and how to set firm rules around chores and behavior.

Porter, the father of the 19-year-old, said the class helped him learn to be patient with his daughter

“If you don’t have no patience, you’re gonna get mad with yourself every day trying to understand what’s going on with your child,” he said.

Shawn Porter, 37, said he hopes he passes on a sense of responsibility to his 19 year-old daughter, and appreciates the patience he learned through the group discussions with other fathers. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Now, he’s excited to see where she goes next.

“She’s one of the brightest, humblest 19-year-olds that I honestly know right now,” he said. “Whatever she wanna do, I’m backing her.”

Workshop enrollment continues through early October.

If you or someone you know has been affected by gun violence in Philadelphia, you can find grief support and resources here.

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