Community Action, Inc.: The Brotherhood of Fatherhood

Antonio Hickman (left) and Erick Williams (right), Fatherhood Initiative.

Antonio Hickman was 18 years old before he ever met his dad. His grandmother called him to the front door one day, where he found a man he’d never seen. His father.

“I just got out of jail,” the man said.

“Why?” asked Antonio. His father jabbed a finger at him: “You.” “Me?!” The man nodded.

“He said it was something to do with child support,” Antonio explained, shaking his head. “That was the first and last time I met my dad. I vowed to never be that person to my kid.”

Antonio first found his way to Community Action in 2012, when he was a participant in the Fatherhood Initiative. Since 2007, the program has helped hundreds of men—fatherless fathers, many with criminal histories, or unemployed, or behind in child support and out of touch with their kids—to get back on track.

Several times a year, about a dozen men go through the months-long Fatherhood Initiative program, showing up at Community Action’s Pathways Center at 8 a.m. sharp, Monday through Friday, to learn about parenting skills, relationships, fatherhood, nutrition, budgeting, setting up a household, getting a job, maintaining a job, catching up on fees. Meditating and mindfulness, even. Putting things back on track. Righting their lives. It becomes more than just a program about parenting or a seminar on interviewing skills. The men bond, there’s a camaraderie.

“It might be the Fatherhood Initiative, but we’ve got a brotherhood, here,” they say with a smile.

The Fridays with Fathers roundtable discussions bring community leaders and potential employers into a space where program participants can tell their own stories—the stories of where they’ve been, and where they want to be going. Stories of hope, and determination.

At one of his first Fridays with Fathers, after the rounds of introductions and a rundown of the program’s statistics and successes, Antonio opened up and told his own story. When he came to the Fatherhood Initiative, he said, he was fresh off of three-and-a-half years in jail. His daughter was 6 years old, and wising up to his fib about “being in school,” which is how he explained his stint behind bars to her. He didn’t have a job and was trying to figure out his next steps, and his aunt suggested the program, said that he would like the program manager, Erick Williams. He agreed to try it, but wasn’t expecting much. He certainly wasn’t expecting it to change his life.

Instead, “I learned something in that class. It was amazing,” he says. “I learned a lot about myself. I blamed a lot of people for what happened to me. ‘Oh, I didn’t grow up with a father, I didn’t grow up with my mom. I wouldn’t take responsibility, and I wouldn’t hold myself accountable. And I learned how to do both of those things in Fatherhood.”
In Williams, Antonio found the mentor—the father figure—he’d always wanted. After graduating from the Fatherhood Initiative, he got a job, got a promotion, and got another job, this time working as a youth advocate in a group home for adolescent boys, where he recognized himself in so many of his charges. Hungry for more, he made good on the story he’d told his daughter and went back to school, earning a degree in psychology.

Now, the man who turned his life around in the Fatherhood Initiative is helping to guide the lives of others, as the program’s case manager. The men he works with “come to me at their lowest point,” he says, but he can relate. “They know I’ve been there, done that. They come to me saying, ‘I’ve got zero dollars, my lights are off, I’ve got two kids, I either need to sell crack or get a job.’ People come to me like that.”

But those are exactly the kind of people Antonio wants to see in the Fatherhood Initiative. Those men are the ones who are ready—not to have their lives changed for them, but to do the hard work of changing their lives for themselves, and for the betterment of their children and families.

“Those are the people who do well in these programs,” Antonio says. “The guy who realizes he’s hit rock bottom.”

The hardest part of his job, he says, is building the men’s confidence; but he understands that, because he’s been there. He gets it—that was the hardest part for him, too.

When you see Antonio with the men in the program, it’s so obvious that they admire and respect him, that he really is making a difference in their lives. That’s not so surprising, though. He knows exactly how they feel.

For more information:
Call: Antonio Hickman @ 608-313-1316
Email: ahickman@community-action.org