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How Letter Writing is Helping Fathers Reach Their Sons

"You are starting with a letter, but many other conversations can develop from there.” A new program helping fathers teach their sons to become men.

Terrence Brummell vividly remembers growing up without his father—the disappointment, the feeling that his dad would have no impact on the man he was growing up to be. Now the father of an eight-year-old boy, Brummell wants to be invested in his son’s life even when it means having hard talks he’s never had before.

One way Brummell connects with his third grade son Arion Amor is through the "Letters to Our Sons" program at Achievement First Apollo elementary school in East New York.

Letters to Our Sons is an after school initiative started by school counselor Felicia Walker last May. Walker, who has worked with students at Achievement First Apollo for the past five years, noticed that many of the young minority boys who were being sent to her office for disciplinary issues also had strained relationships with their fathers.

“I started to think, wouldn’t it be cool to have conversations with these fathers about teaching your son to become a man.” Walker said. “I wanted to bring together a group of dads to learn from one another.”

The program has developed into bi-monthly afterschool meetings where fathers can come and share their thoughts, emotions, experiences and insight on current events affecting their sons. At the end of the meeting, each dad writes a letter to his child expressing their love and hope for their sons as well as sharing lessons they’d like to pass down.

"I think there is something personal about sitting down and writing out a letter.” Walker said. “Not only that, but to go home and read the letter to their sons is a way to open communication. You are starting with a letter, but so many other conversations can develop from there.”

Brummell remembers his son’s reaction the first time he read the letter from his dad.

“I asked him, 'What do you understand the letter [is] saying to you.?' He said, 'First of all I am so happy that you would write me a letter,'” Brummell said. “The big thing to him was just to have the experience, not so much the content of the letter, but just to know there is that interaction. He now can have a letter in an envelope that he can open himself and read.”

In Brummell’s second letter he wants to share with his son that he must be respectful and mindful when he comes in contact with police officers.

“I want to tell him that as you walk the road you may want to act silly sometimes but keep your silly behavior for at home in the house. When we are together we can act silly together, but when you are out in the road I want to impress upon him there are certain behaviors you don’t want to show because you don’t want to be branded in a certain way,” he said.

Being able to share that knowledge is important to Brummell—a way to compensate for what he missed out on not having a relationship with his father.

The letters are just one component of the program. The fathers also spend time talking to one another about their own lived experiences and have lively discussions about what to tell their sons and when.

“I talk to my son constantly, but I don’t want to overload him,” Kenrick Morgan said. “I want him to be a kid as long as he can, but have the knowledge that there are other things out there to be aware of.”

Morgan, who has an 11-year-old son, acknowledged that these topics can be complex. Not all of the dads agree all of the time.

For counselor Walker, this is just the beginning.

“I want the program to evolve and be connected to what’s happening today,” she said. “I don’t want dads or sons to be in a bubble and not talk about what’s real and what’s happening right now. I think its important they have those conversations and as things come up that directly affect the black community, we want to talk about it and I think this is a great place to talk.”