Obama Takes Plan for Dads to the Barbershop

We talked to the head of the president's fatherhood initiative about the unconventional outreach.

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(The Root) — You just might run into Kenneth Braswell at your local barbershop this weekend. He’s the director of the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees President Obama’s Fatherhood and Mentoring Initiative. Starting Saturday in select cities, representatives from the latest project of the Initiative, Fatherhood Buzz, will be meeting men where they are — literally, right where they’re getting their hair cut — to share information about responsible fatherhood and parenting.

Why barbershops? Braswell says the idea is that beyond serving men’s grooming needs, they’re a “trusted space to discuss personal and public issues,” from family to politics to health and money. That, he reasons, makes barbershops the perfect places to start up conversations about responsible fatherhood and parenting, and disseminate information about available resources for dads who need support.

Cities selected for participation in the Fatherhood Buzz pilot program are: Albany, N.Y., Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

The Root talked to Braswell about the message he wants to send to dads, what responsible fatherhood means to him and whether “barbershop” is code for “black.”

The Root: You say the Fatherhood Buzz program will provide fathers with essential tools and tips on ways to interact and be a positive influence in their children’s lives. Why are men missing this information and what are the consequences if they don’t have it?

Kenneth Braswell: I think that just naturally we don’t seek out consistent help and support when we’re going through our day-to-day issues with respect to parenting — even fathers who are trying to be better dads. It’s natural for men not to seek help in all areas, even when we really need it. So we’re bringing the information to them. We’re responding to the fact that dads want to be involved in the lives of their children.

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