The bell rings when the door opens at Jimmy’s Barber and Style Shop in east Birmingham. Clippers and razors are humming on one side of the room. On the other side, men sit and listen to Rev. James Mason giving his testimony.
Mason is part of the Birmingham Housing Authority’s Fatherhood Initiative, a program designed to empower fathers to help build strong families. Housing Authority Executive Director Michael Lundy says this kind of testimony helps men feel at ease talking about the issues men and fathers face.
“I think it created a sense of safe haven,” he says, “a space where we can have a real conversation.”
In Alabama, 72 percent of poor children are living in single-parent homes, and a majority of the kids don’t see their fathers regularly, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty. The housing authority wants to have an impact on fathers, their families, and the communities where they live.
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development asked the nation’s public housing communities to work on unifying and strengthening fathers. Galvin Billups, head of Resident Services for the housing authority, takes that task seriously. He looks at unique factors that impact families — social, economic, and housing.
“Sometimes, families don’t make as much money and these issues of families not being together provides a broader issue,” he says.
In addition to the barber shop talks, The Birmingham Fatherhood Initiative this year includes midnight basketball, a job fair, and a luncheon. Among the first to arrive at a fatherhood luncheon in their community is Hamidullah Rahmaan and his brother Hasan Rahmaan. The men have coached sports in the Kingston community for years.
“I think more men should take more responsibility in leading your family,” Hamidullah Rahmaan says. “Because that is a problem we have as a people.”
Hamidullah and his brother Hasan, as fathers and coaches, share their wisdom with their players just as they would their own children. Hasan says the players they coached 50 years ago still abide by what they learned as children — discipline, respect, and sportsmanship.
Birmingham Housing officials say between midnight basketball, barbershop talks, and luncheons, the program is growing. Several hundred men participated this year with the goal of enhancing the quality of life for them and their communities.