Rev. Walter Jones Jr. is the associate minister at New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, 4301 W Washington Blvd., and executive director of Fathers Who Care. Rev. Jones is also the director and founder of the West Side and West Garfield Park Community Stakeholders, director and founder of the West Garfield Park Youth Council and chairman of the National Faith-Based Prevention Alliance.
I recently spoke to Rev. Jones about the organizations he founded, his life on the West Side and other pressing issues, such as the community’s response to the COVID-19 vaccine.
How Fathers Who Care started
It started up as a think tank under Congressman Danny K. Davis. Between 1998 and 2000, a group of men came together who were concerned about the images of Black men, particularly as fathers on the West Side of Chicago. Our fight at that time was to dispel negativity associated with being a father.
At that time, there was no program or services available for fathers. They were always dedicated to mothers and we don’t have a problem with that. Mothers are instrumental in the lives of their children, but we believed then, as we do now, that fathers are just as important in the lives of their children and can make an impact on their lives in the community.
On growing up without a father
I grew up on the West side of Chicago in West Garfield Park. My father passed when I was young. Unfortunately, at the age of 14, my father transitioned to be with the Lord. There has always been a thorn on my side … and a void in my life [because of his father’s absence]. So, I sought to create an organization in place of my dad. It has always been in my spirit. I wanted to do whatever I could for whoever needed the support and it really started out with men: empowered men, supported men, enlightened men, engaged men – and that’s how it blossomed to where we are today.
On the impact of Fathers Who Care
The impact we have brought about in our community is rather robust, to say the least. You know we do believe that the absence of fathers contributes to substance abuse for young people and mental health issues for young people.
We have the West Side Community Stakeholders and we have the West Side Department Youth Council. We are out in the community every day with collaboration and with sector-partisan community stakeholders to bring about social change and community development.
For example, we have five Christmas events this week. We have one on Friday, where we will be providing food to 200 fathers. On Saturday, we are providing intervention and support, providing personal hygienics among other things, for women who have children who are formerly incarcerated. Then, on Sunday, we are going to be out on the West Side of Chicago servicing homeless folks who are living under viaducts in tents.
We are going to bring out a mobile unit out there to assist the folks with medical issues, such as COVID-19 testing and to give out coats, hats, scarves and winter gear.
On the COVID-19 vaccine
We were actually part of the press conference on the West Side a couple of weeks ago trying to make sure that people of color, particularly on the West Side who have been strongly impacted by COVID-19, [get the vaccine]. So, I’ve been playing an instrumental role in trying to make sure we bring testing sites, contact tracing and vaccinations to the West Side of Chicago.
I am really thankful that Mayor Lightfoot and other folks involved were able to administer the first five doses to frontline workers at Loretto Hospital. I am part of the advisory group at Loretto. I am really excited that they were able to bring those resources into our community, because we desperately need them.