Martha’s Table at The Commons hosted a Father’s Day Celebration on June 8 as part of the organization's District Dads initiative. (Photo Courtesy of Conrado Castro/Martha’s Table at The Commons)

, once again, became ground zero for local fathers and father figures seeking and providing support, mentorship, and a chance to make memories with their little ones. 

The hundreds of men who converged on Elvans Street in Southeast, D.C. for the on Saturday spent a better part of their afternoon engaging in interactive activities with their children, grooving to the sounds of a live band, and prioritizing their health. 

“This is an opportunity for us to show that we see the dads out here and their hard work and dedication,” said Matthew Miller, manager of District Dads, a fatherhood initiative that Martha’s Table at the Commons created to provide a wide range of services and resources to support fathers, acknowledge their critical role in their children’s lives, and help them become better men. 

Many of those who participated in the festivities on June 8 either completed or will soon complete that covers various topics, including positive parenting practices, mental and emotional wellness, financial health and navigating the legal system for fatherhood rights. 

Three Years of Programming Focused on Fathers 

District Dads launched in 2021 as an online pilot program geared toward fathers of all ages embarking on a journey of personal growth. By 2023, the program, intended to challenge misconceptions about Black fathers, conducted in-person sessions at Martha’s Table at the Commons in partnership with the , and . 

Throughout District Dads’ existence, more than 100 fathers have gone through the program, learning fatherhood approaches, building comradery with other fathers and earning a stipend. Within a matter of weeks, the current cohort of fathers will finish navigating 17 weeks of instruction. District Dads is for those who want to join the next cohort in September. 

On Saturday, Martha’s Table at the Commons became a maze of stations and resources, including arts and crafts, book readings, hairstyling for fathers and daughters, and games for fathers and sons. Live entertainment included , an interactive musical experience for children and , an Earth, Wind & Fire tribute band that played covers of the well-known jazz-R&B-soul-funk group’s songs. 

(L-R) Dr. Reed Tuckson, managing director of Tuckson Health Connections and speaker at the Father’s Day Event, along with Lamont Mitchell, Martha’s Table board member and co-chair of the Anacostia Coordinating Council (ACC). (Photo Courtesy of Conrado Castro/Martha’s Table at the Commons)

served as the mistress of ceremonies. 

and conducted intake for health check-ups while , co-founder of the Black Coalition Against COVID and former D.C. commissioner of public health, spoke about preventative health with the fathers during his keynote address. 

Attendees also heard from Lamont B. Mitchell, a member of and founder of , an African-American Men’s Health Project that encourages Black men to test for prostate cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. 

“It’s acknowledging the presence of our dads and father figures holding it down,” Miller told The Informer. “We have dads in our program with sole custody of their children. It’s a different narrative than what we’re used to seeing. The fathers in our current cohort and the dads in the District Dads alumni program represent the program, and fathers in general. We’re excited about that.” 

Local Fathers Reflect on Their Journey

During the latter part of last year, nearly 20 fathers and grandfathers navigated District Dads. During their visits to Martha’s Table at the Commons, they shared positive fatherhood stories. They also poured out their hearts among one another about hurdles they faced with the mother of their children and other aspects of life. 

Gary Neclos, a Southeast resident and District Dads alumnus, told The Informer that he appreciated the opportunities he had for introspection while participating in District Dads. Last fall, Neclos and other members of his cohort took a survey that allowed them to explore their strengths, weaknesses, and how they interact with others. 

Gary Neclos (center) receiving his plaque and certificate of completion during the final class of District Dads program at Martha’s Table at the Commons in November 2023. (Ja’Mon Jackson/The 鶹ӰƵ)

As Neclos recalled, he grew closer with his fellow cohort members, speaking with them about a range of topics centered on personal development and Black consciousness. He said that the weekly meetings at Martha’s Table at the Commons benefited him. 

“The program helped me dig a little deeper in myself,” Neclos said. “I liked the chance to hear opinions from other brothers. Whatever the question or subject we were on, if someone disagreed, they disagreed. We talked [about] it instead of it getting real ugly.” 

Fernando Smith, a father of nine and grandfather of six, said he embraced the emotional healing portion of the District Dads program. Despite what he described as his experience as a father, Smith acknowledged that he had much to learn while in his cohort. 

He told The Informer that he learned just as much from the younger fathers as they learned from him. 

“I saw improvement in my family and how I talk with my partner,” said Smith, a 52-year-old Southeast resident. “A lot of the things I thought were small — watching tv, going to the park, playing board games — add up. That matters in making our children feel that they matter… I also learned that discipline is not about controlling what is what isn’t, but just being consistent.” 

Anthoni Love entered the District Dads program not long after becoming a father. He expressed his eagerness to pave a path for his young one while fulfilling his goal of becoming a firefighter. When it comes to fatherhood, Love said he wants to create the best environment possible for his little one so they too can pursue personal and career goals when the time comes. 

“I want to be the best comforter and listener I can be. Someone that my child is most comfortable with,” said Love, 22. “I can’t predetermine everything for my children [but] it’s [about] letting them know they can be whatever they want. And I’ll be there 100%…. It helps to build up their confidence and social awareness. It gives them independence in their daily activities.” 

Sam P.K. Collins has nearly 20 years of journalism experience, a significant portion of which he gained at The 鶹ӰƵ. On any given day, he can be found piecing together a story, conducting...

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *