It was billed as a day of absence and atonement for millions of African-Americans heeding Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan's call to refrain from public activities and remain at home to fast, pray and reflect.
A group of local black men heeded the call but, instead of absence, opted to make themselves conspicuous at a neighborhood public school to support the spirit of Mr. Farrakhan's message.
Members of the Buffalo chapter of Men Against Destruction -- Defending Against Drugs and Social Disorder, commonly known as MAD DADS, spent the day at Community School 53 at 329 Roeher Ave.
"We knew the school system was not going to shut down for the day," said Greg Hill, MAD DADS president and community school coordinator.
"So, if men were going to take off from work, why not have men come to school? Our children need to see men," Hill added.
Hill was joined by about 50 other black men, many of whom are members of the local chapter of MAD DADS, including Masten District Council Member Byron W. Brown, Erie County Youth Commissioner Nathan Hare, community activist Charley Fisher and Grassroots President Maurice Garner.
Fathers participating at school is not new at Community School 53. For nearly five years, a group of men has been actively engaged in patrols and other activities centered around children inside and outside the school.
Subsequently, they formed a local chapter of MAD DADS, which was organized by a group of Omaha, Neb., men in 1989 to protect their children against drug dealers and street criminals, as well as to provide the youngsters with positive male role models.
"Our children just don't see enough of us," Hill lamented about the lack of adult male participation in public schools.
Many of the problems inside city schools could be resolved by a beefed-up male presence, he said.
"Our children live through violence every single day. These children come into this school with a bag of problems, and some of the issues that they deal with aren't things that occur here at the school. It's something that happened in the community or at home, and they bring it with them," Hill said. "Sometimes, the only way they can act it out is to do that to somebody else. . . . What we have to do is sensitize ourselves and ask what we can do as men."
Invited to the school Thursday by the fathers was Minister Abdul Halim Muhammed of Muhammad's Mosque 23 of the Nation of Islam, who spoke of the Million Man March.
That march, which asked black men to atone for past transgression and become more active in their communities, moved participants beyond labels and barriers, demonstrating "a oneness of faith and principle," Muhammed said. While African-Americans need to coalesce their economic and political strength, such an endeavor would be hollow without spiritual coalescence, he said.
"What we really need is God, and the day of atonement speaks to this," Minister Muhammed said.
Those who went to School 53 Thursday helped school personnel serve breakfast and lunch, helped provide security outside the school building, monitored school halls and participated in skits Hare wrote on the subjects of peer pressure, violence and conflict mediation.
"This idea of bringing fathers into the schools four or five years ago has really made an impact here," said Hill. "We're hoping to make this an ongoing effort."