After 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee was brutally murdered by gang members on the South Side last November, a group of African-American men met for breakfast to talk about how they could prevent something so heinous from happening again.
“This all started through various conversations with a bunch of men who decided to sit down and have breakfast together,” said Toussaint Werner during a press conference last month.
Werner is a member of the Breaking Bread Group, the organization that was formed as a result of those breakfast conversations.
On Feb. 24, the group — comprising pastors and community leaders — announced that it was partnering with state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (8th) and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) on a campaign to recruit 200 African-American men to become foster fathers.
“In our community there’s been a void of men standing up and taking real responsibility for [its] conditions,” said Victor Love, one of Breaking Bread’s founders.
“We realize that, with so many things these young men have been through, it’s going to take real men to guide them to wholeness,” said Love, who noted that the campaign for those 200 black men will go through the end of May.
“There’s a serious lack of men who become foster parents in our state,” said Ford, a foster child himself who was raised by his grandmother. “We’re calling on all the good men to get involved and make a difference. Father figures play vital roles in children’s lives.”
“We do have a challenge trying to place older foster children, particularly those of African-American descent, and between the ages of 10 and 16 years old, in homes,” said Veronica Resa, a DCFS representative.
Resa said more than 16,000 children are considered wards of the state — most of whom live with relatives or “fictive kin,” such as godparents. On any given day, she said, around 1,000 are in a need of a home. In the 1980s and 1990s, she said, the state used to be responsible for two and three times as many children.
“Sometimes it’s a money issue. A lot of kids come into the system not necessarily because of abuse, but because of neglect. Poverty is a big [factor] we’re fighting as well.”
Resa said part of the challenge with placing those children in homes has to do with popular misconceptions, such as the myth that 17-year-olds can’t be adopted. She added that the adoption process is relatively easy.
“We are looking for role models who happen to be African-American men,” she said, adding that the agency is looking for more robust partnerships with faith-based households and churches — a community that is already one of its most reliable sources of foster parents.
“It’s very easy to be a foster parent. You need to be at least 21 years old, pass a [criminal] background check and medical check, and you can be single, divorced, in a civil union, separated — we consider all types of families as long as they have a loving home and caring hearts.”