Inspiring Fathers: Mr. Dads Father's Club

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Princeton Fellow 2021

In 2017, Joseph Williams volunteered to be on lunchroom duty at his children’s school, the Beasley Academic Center. As he watched and learned more about the children, he became more involved both in the school and in children’s lives.

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“I realized that some of them didn't eat as much, and so I get them their seconds for lunch,” said Williams. “One day I just decided to go and read a book to my kids’ classroom.” The class liked the book so much that they wanted Williams to come back and read another one. And so he did. His reading sessions motivated other fathers to come in and begin reading books to children in schools. Eventually, Williams organized the fathers into the Mr. Dad’s Father’s Club, a nonprofit dedicated to providing positive male role models to children in schools in Chicago.

“Our ultimate goal is just to help mold our children for a brighter future so a lot of the books that we read are based on social and emotional learning.”

At the Beasley Academic Center, the pilot program was so successful that the school recognized it as playing a part in helping the school move to level 1 in the Chicago Public School system. Williams is now also the chairman of Beasley Academic Center’s Parent Advisory Council, as well as chair of the local school council.

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From his children's school, Williams has broadened the organization’s reach to send fathers to other Chicago Public Schools to read to children and provide mentorship. He has also expanded its operations to include many community activities, such as trips to the Brookfields Zoo and the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.

“We get tickets in thousands and we give them out to our families because some children have never been to a zoo,” explained Williams.

“Some kids have never stepped foot outside of their community, and we want our families to get out and enjoy life.”

For Williams, this is what his organization is all about — bringing families together and celebrating positive role models. With this goal in mind, Williams organized the first annual Father’s Day March in the summer of 2018. He held the march again in 2019, and both times over 300 people attended.

When the pandemic hit last March, Williams could not host a 2020 Father’s Day March. However, he is planning a “comeback” Father’s Day March for July 3 at Ogden Park. Williams is determined to make this years’ march a festival that will “recognize good men and fathers who are doing work in our communities.”

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“We [are going to] get other nonprofits to be a part of it because it’s not just about us. We want to also offer resources to folks so when people come out there that day. We’re going to have stuff for the youth scholarships and programs they can sign up for the summer... [We] might have a vaccination tent out and tons of resources for friends and family as well. [We’ll have a] bounce house for the kids and free food,” he added.

During the Pandemic, Williams also could not go to schools and read for kids in person, so he live-streamed his show, “Read-A-Book-Day,” from his living room every Friday at noon with three younger kids as the audience. The videos received thousands of views, and his efforts were featured in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Besides reading books for children during the Pandemic, Williams has also written a children’s book, Mr. Dad’s Father’s Club Presents “Read a Book Day,” which is “based on the story of how Mr. Dad’s and how we started but also motivating children to believe in themselves and dream big and everything that they can think of.”

Williams wrote the story, and Lobena Effat, an artist from Egypt, did the illustrations based on his ideas. He is planning to self-publish the book on Amazon by September 2021.

Along with the children’s book, Williams is also planning to shoot a short film about his work that will begin production on July 15. The film will include scenes from Williams’ daily life, as well as footage from his work with Mr. Dad’s Father’s Club.

“It’s going to take you deep into my life, and you’re going to see some issues that occur and how we solve these issues,” said Williams of the film. “It’s also going to highlight so much in Chicago, [such as] the beautiful murals that you see throughout the city that represent family and togetherness.”

The film also features the Chicago Fire Department and a tour that they give Williams’ children of the firehouse. Williams is also planning to have the 30-45 minute film be ready by September, but could release it during Christmas “when families are together” or even in February on his wife’s birthday.

Aside from the usual reading program, the book, and the movie, Williams is also focused on bringing his organization to more schools in Chicago.

“If we can do this for more schools and get more men involved, they could give us a contract and we could give them a stipend [to do the reading program] which gives them the funds and help them go back home and feed a family, so it all goes together,” Williams explained.

However, Williams does not see the organization stopping at just the Chicago Public School system.

“The future goal that I see one day with our nonprofit is to hopefully have a chapter in every state,” he said.

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