Of the 60 people who attended the 4th Annual V.I. Fathers March and Rally Saturday afternoon at Tutu Park Mall, about 15 of them were fathers and male caregivers. Despite the low turnout for fathers, the enthusiastic crowd applauded and chorused “Amen” as speakers encouraged fathers to be more involved in their children’s lives.
Fathers gathered at Four Winds Plaza and marched to the mall to the beat of Ivanna Eudora Kean High School’s marching band. Mall-goers stopped to watch the procession and ask questions about the rally.
Speakers including lawyers, government representatives and even a karate instructor explained to attendees that it’s easy to get involved in children’s lives, and taking them to school is a good starting point.
“I was my son’s superman and that’s what we should be,” said event organizer Othniel Vanterpool. “We should be raising our children, not a television. Fathers need to stop drinking, stop playing dominoes, stop coming home at late hours. Fathers should help with homework, reading with children.”
Vanterpool quoted startling statistics, noting that 70 percent of young men in jail grew up in fatherless homes and were rarely hugged or told that they were loved. He noted that girls without a father figure at home get pregnant at a younger age.
Although the rally focuses on fathers accompanying their children to school on the first day, Vanterpool said he hopes it will motivate fathers to stay active year round. He said it’s easy for fathers to be physically home without being emotionally involved in children’s day to day lives.
Judge James Carroll, event organizer and founder of the Jason Carroll Memorial Fund, said that fathers may not realize the importance of the march now, but they will when they see their sons become role models for their own children.
Carroll said there are two qualities he sees in young men who appear in his courtroom – they didn’t receive a high school diploma and they come from broken homes. These qualities, he said, are a recipe for problems later in life. Carroll said it’s hard to combat years of neglect from fathers, but one thing he requires of young men is an education.
Attorney Archie Jennings worried that children’s problems stem from economic issues that result in a lack of education, and ultimately these young men and women are unable to find a good job. Speakers asserted that if children simply stick with their education, they can succeed.
“If we are going to turn this island over to the next generation and they have not been taught well, we are in serious trouble,” Vanterpool said.
Speakers also discussed everything from the importance of faith to the significance of having a support system for children, whether the support comes from friends or family. They emphasized the importance of both parents’ role in raising children.
Fathers who attended the event were encouraged to sign in once they bring their children to school on Tuesday and to pass the message on to other fathers.
The march and rally began four years ago when Judge Carroll decided to set up an event similar to the Million Father March, but realized that there aren’t a million fathers in the territory. Thus they established the Fathers March and Rally and continue to gain more support each year.