Much of the recent news about the fate of young black men and women in Chicago has been dismal. The FBI released crime statistics earlier this week which showed that Chicago, with 500 murders in 2012, had officially become the “murder capital of America”. Seventy seven percent of the 2012 homicide victims were Black, and the median age of all victims was 25. Three days after this report was released several gunmen bearing military assault weapons shot and wounded 13 people (including a 3-year-old boy) at a South Side park in what police believe was a gang related attack. Although Chicagoans are quick to respond that the number of homicides in their city is lower than it was this time last year, it is hard to be optimistic in the face of this recent tragedy.

In the midst of all of this trauma there are rays of hope. One such bright ray comes from Chicagoan Phillip Jackson and his Black Star Project. The Black Star Project, which Jackson founded in 1996, is committed to improving the quality of life in Black and Latino communities of Chicago and nationwide by eliminating the racial academic achievement gap. Its mission is “to provide educational services that help pre-school through college students succeed academically and become knowledgeable and productive citizens with the support of their parents, families, schools and communities”. It does this through a myriad of great sounding programs, including mentoring and tutoring programs, “Parent University” (which teaches parenting skills), The League of Black Parents, and the Father’s Club.

Jackson and his Black Star Project may be most well-known for their annual Million Father’s March, which he inaugurated in 2004. On the first day of school each year since the march began, Black fathers, relatives, men, and significant male caregivers are asked to take their children to their first day of school. Fathers, grandfathers, foster fathers, stepfathers, uncles, cousins, big brothers, significant male caregivers and friends of the family have participated in the event here in the U.S. and in countries around the world. This year’s march took place in Chicago on Monday August 26th, and it was part of a national effort: More than 500 cities signed up to participate in the march this year. As a recent article on this year’s march found here notes, programs which expand fathers’ connections to the school (e.g, where they spend the day at school or become a school volunteer) have grown out of this march.

You dads may have missed it this year, but check out the Black Star Project website found here and figure out how to be a part of this exciting movement for next fall!