Recognizing That Fathers, Families Make a Difference
Joseph T. Jones Jr. knows all too well what it means for a child to grow up without a dad around.
“My mother and father divorced when I was 10,” he recalls. “When he left the home, we were so poor we had to move out of the projects. I ended up having all this time on my hands to run the streets.
“So the issue of fatherlessness has always gnawed at me. It seems so much the norm with my peers.”
“They focus on the entire family, but one thing that makes them unique is they are addressing this historical issue of marginalizing and oppressing fathers. ” —Raquel T. Hatter, The Kresge Foundation
Jones began using heroin at age 13. He spent 17 years addicted to drugs and in and out of incarceration.
Today he’s in recovery from his addiction and is a citizen who only wants to give back. He founded the nonprofit Center for Urban Families (CFUF) in Baltimore to strengthen his hometown’s most impoverished neighborhoods.
His idea was to help fathers and families achieve economic and domestic stability, though the effort is clearly a two-way street.
“Given where I was once in my life, I could do this all day long,” he says. “I took so much from the city, I needed to give back. I’m in a love affair with the city of Baltimore — all its grit and all its promise.”
Helping Families, One at a Time
CFUF is a recipient of a Kresge Foundation Next Generation Initiative grant, which gives a cohort of direct services organizations the opportunity to improve leadership growth and create organizational and action plans that center on family and workplace development to advance and accelerate social and economic mobility.
“We built a new 32,000-square-foot building, and on the front there’s a placard that reads, ‘Helping Fathers and Families Work,’” Jones says. “I didn’t want some guy walking past us to say, ‘Center For Urban Families … that must be for women.’ I wanted them to know there was a place in here for them as a man and as a dad.”
Jones’ vision is to elevate and equip fathers with the tools they need to be supportive of their families.
“Joe is known for saying, ‘There’s a difference between a deadbeat dad and a dead-broke dad,’” says Raquel T. Hatter, managing director of Kresge’s Human Services Program. “They focus on the entire family, but one thing that makes them unique is they are addressing this historical issue of marginalizing and oppressing fathers.”
A Fork in the Road
The NextGen grant arrived at a critical point for CFUF, which was reevaluating the very core of its mission.
“First of all, we just felt very honored,” he says. “But we were in the middle of changing our DNA, reengineering the entire organization.”
Jones says he had grown increasingly frustrated with CFUF’s definition of what makes a successful outcome.
“The folks who really ascended to a place where they were stable in terms of their economic situation were with us three to five years,” he says. “So we wanted to change our model to focus on working with folks long term, but continue to do what we do at baseline.”
Kresge came along with its support just at the right time, he adds, helping propel the organization in the direction it needed to go.
“This is a big deal for us,” Jones says. “And to be in an environment with Kresge where you have big thinkers who are doing real systemic kind of work, this is the benefit of the Next Generation investment.
“We’re trying to create an ecosystem for our entire city, and they’re giving us the opportunity to see different approaches to uplifting people out of poverty.”
Through Jones’ leadership, CFUF has become an organization that incorporates direct services, program design and policymaking to have a huge impact on the community.
CFUF is also helping to strengthen the human services sector as a whole, advancing urban opportunity across the nation. Its nationally focused Practitioners Leadership Institute is designed to provide training and information to strengthen the skills of those who work to support families, black male achievement and workforce development.
“When you think about Joe’s personal story, in the context of Baltimore and its history, and the fact he had a vision bigger than himself and undertook it, it’s inspiring,” Hatter says. “That’s a reason foundations like Kresge exist, to find those types of visionaries around the country and support them.”