Fatherhood is a sacred identity. It is not conferred automatically nor does it belong exclusively to any one individual. There are various ways that we get to have or be fathers. Many people have assumed the role and responsibility for parenting young people with or without any legal or biological connection. The title father belongs to the person who acts on the decision to do everything they can to provide for the physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being of a child.
Doing the internal work to heal is a necessity for being a responsible and honorable father. None of us escapes the hurts of living in this oppressive society. We endure the pervasive effects of racism, sexism, economic exploitation and mental health oppression. These are but a few expressions of oppression with long-lasting impact that manifest in a variety of harmful ways, from self-doubt to self-hate, from low expectations to patterns of abuse or addiction. One predictable consequence of not getting the help and healing we need for our own well-being is the high likelihood that we will inadvertently pass that trauma and those hurts on to the next generation – or as the saying goes, “hurt people, hurt people”.
My father was a good man. I didn’t always know that. As a boy I didn’t have enough information to understand the ways that the intersections of the circumstances of his life – a Black male born during the height of Jim Crow and raised poor – set him up the ways it did and often showed up in harmful ways. Fortunately, given enough resources, it is possible for the process of recovery and healing to happen. We are bigger and better than any circumstance.
Eventually, as I got a better picture of the impact of systemic racism, sexism, and classism, it was easy to stop blaming him, and turn to the real work and commit to building a just and equitable society and eliminating the oppressive conditions that cause harm to our lives.
As we honor fatherhood especially this month, join us in honoring the life and legacy of two members of Deaconess’ family who were truly servant leaders on this side of heaven: Mr. Wesley Douglas Hurt, Jr., Deaconess Foundation Trustee, and Mr. Halbert Sullivan, Sr., Founder of Fathers & Families Support Center, Deaconess Foundation Impact Partner.
Wesley Douglas Hurt, Jr.
Mr. Hurt, a beloved son, husband, father, and grandfather, had a passion for peace and social justice for free and incarcerated individuals. The son of a Tuskegee Airman, Mr. Hurt graduated from Lincoln University of Pennsylvania, with a Bachelor of Arts-Math degree and went on to work at Westinghouse in Baltimore in the aerospace department. Following graduate studies, he worked in a program for the rehabilitation of prisoners released back into society. After relocating to St. Louis, he worked at Monsanto in the division of environmental science before starting his own engineering company, E.R.M. Technologies, Inc. He committed dedicated opportunities to teens and young adults for summer employment at E.R.M. to gain job experience.
For over 25 years, Mr. Hurt was compassionate in his service as a member of the Division of Youth Service at Missouri Hills and Hogan Street Children’s Homes. He was a member of Christ The King United Church of Christ, formerly known as Independent Congregational Church, for over 40 years and served in various regional and national capacities in the United Church of Christ.
Halbert Sullivan, Sr.
Mr. Sullivan, a beloved son, husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, dedicated his life to producing positive outcomes for children. The eldest of eight children and a native of Memphis, Tennessee, Mr. Sullivan earned a college degree at 44 years-old and then, at age 47, a master’s degree in social work from The Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis after turning the traumatic experiences – incarceration and substance abuse – of his youth and young adulthood into power. After working as a social worker with Saint Louis Public Schools, he founded Fathers’ Support Center (Fathers and Families Support Center) in 1997 with the intent of transforming absent fathers into nurturing parents using the lessons he learned. Since then, the organization has helped more than 18,000 fathers become financially and emotionally involved parents with the skills necessary to support a family, in turn, making a positive impact in the lives of nearly 45,000 children.
Today, Fathers and Families Support Center has more than 55 full-time employees and an annual budget of $4.5 million. Mr. Sullivan received the Gold Pin for the President’s Volunteer Service Award, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Partnership of Community Leadership, was named the 2017 Nonprofit Executive of the Year in St. Louis, and received honors from the NAACP, Missouri Association of Social Welfare, Washington University and the governor of Missouri.
Mr. Sullivan described his life’s journey in a 2018 article for The St. Louis American’s Homegrown Black Male series, entitled, My journey to training responsible fathers.
In service to our children,
Rudolph Nickens, Jr.
To read the rest of our June eNewsletter, click here.