With a turnout of approximately 250 people last year, organizers of the V.I. Father’s March and Rally hope to bring thousands to the annual event in hopes of connecting more children with their fathers.
The event, sponsored by the V.I. chapter of Mothers Against Guns and the Jason Carroll Memorial Fund, will kick off Saturday with a motivational rally. Participants will gather at Four Winds Plaza at 4 p.m. and walk to Tutu Park Mall, where the rally will officially begin at 5 p.m. in the center courtyard. The rally will feature motivational speakers, while each participating father or father figure will receive a free T-shirt and badge, and will pledge to stay involved in their children’s lives throughout the year.
"The pledge is very important, because it says that these fathers and father figures will go back to school with their children, starting with the first day of school, and will continue throughout the year to be involved," said Judge James Carroll III. The judge and his wife, Celia Carroll, started Mothers Against Guns and the Jason Carroll Memorial Fund after losing their son to gun violence; through those organizations, they have sponsored local activities that promote non-violence and parental involvement.
"Studies have shown that when fathers are involved in the lives of their children, in particular with their schooling and education, the children are more concentrated, they do better in school and they become better adults," Carroll said. "So this does have some play in our attempts to reduce violence in our community, in that children whose fathers are part of their lives generally are not the type of citizens that become involved in violence."
Following the rally, fathers and father figures will "march" to school with their children on Aug. 31. To monitor the participants, volunteers will be at the schools on opening day, and will have sheets the fathers can sign to show they brought their children in. Father figures, Carroll said, also includes uncles, step fathers, grandfathers or older brothers that care and play an active role in the student’s life.
"The Father’s March is a concept we developed specifically for the Virgin Islands," Carroll said. He explained that the concept is based on the annual Million Father March that takes place on the mainland, but was modified and adopted to fit the territory.
"Frequently we have mothers who also ask to come to the rally," Carroll said. "We’re not turning them away, but basically we’re seeking the fathers, and the male involvement. The children need two parents, and the mothers have already stepped up, so now we’re asking the fathers to step up also."
Saturday and Sunday have also been proclaimed by Gov. John deJongh Jr. as the "Back to School Days of Prayer" in the territory, which Carroll said allows people to go to their local church and pray for the returning students, faculty, administrators and the parents to "be healthy and well during the school year."
The events are also being sponsored by the V.I. Department of Human Services and the V.I. Superior Court’s Division of Paternity and Child Support, Tutu Park Mall also provided assistance, while water and other beverages were donated by Cost U Less, Plaza Extra and Chico’s.