Dwayne Ferguson was 35 when he joined forces with fellow fathers on Buffalo's East Side to form MAD DADs (Men Against Destruction Defending Against Drugs and Social Disorder). The year was 1996, and East Side residents were fed up with gang violence and the flow of illegal drugs in their neighborhood. There was an urgent need for a mentor program to reach out to young men ages 13 to 21. Ferguson and a handful of other fathers stepped forward.
Today Ferguson is 51. He has been president of the MAD DADs Buffalo chapter – about one-fifth of the national registered chapters are active – for 16 years. Working out of a former crack house on Wohlers Avenue, MAD DADS patrol city streets, visit schools and monitor shopping malls. The father of three, ages 34, 27 and 15, Ferguson is a lifelong resident of the East Side. He is determined to make a difference.
>People Talk:Why did you step forward?
Dwayne Ferguson: I have a passion for the young men and young ladies and parents in the community. I had worked for the board of education, and I could see what was going on when I walked in the doors of the school. I decided we had to do something, and not only in school. What happens after school, outside the school?
>PT: You were a teacher?
DF: No, I helped teach physical education, and I handled basketball leagues in school. That's why I had the MAD DADS basketball league. It's been very successful.
>PT:Were you a street kid?
DF: Yeah, I ran the street. I was out there doing bad. I did my dirt out on the street, but then I had to come back and we took one corner at a time – one block at a time – to do what we needed to do as men. I used to be a dope dealer but now I'm a hope dealer.
>PT:Tell me about your dad.
DF: He's 85 years old. He's a wonderful dad. He still drives. He does wonderful things in the community. That's where I got what I do in the community – from him. Me and my father and another gentlemen rehabbed this whole house because, when we got it, it was really messed up. It was a crack house. It was donated through the Community Action Organization.
>PT:What neighborhoods are you currently patrolling?
DF: Delavan and Courtland avenues. We actually pray with the young men on the corner. We do this at 9, 10 o'clock on Friday and Saturday nights. We use the bikes. We use cars, too. There's nine or 10 of us that go on street patrol doing ministry. We ask them if we can have prayer with them. The majority don't say no.
We also patrol the Galleria Mall on Fridays and Saturdays. We start at the movie theater and walk the mall. I'm in about five or six different schools every day. We're teaching the young men how to be respectful to teachers and their parents. Build Academy called me. We're at School 74, School 53, McKinley High School.
>PT:Has your focus changed over the years?
DF: We reach back and get the parents, that's the situation. What is us talking to the kids and mentoring the kids going to do if we haven't reached the mom or the dad? The parents fell by the wayside because the young men and ladies just got out of hand. The reason they got out of hand is because the parents had no control over their kids. We want our kids back.
>PT:What do children fear most on city streets?
DF: They don't have any fear. That's why they shoot each other and disrespect each other. There's a different breed of kids. You've got kids who walk around with their pants down their butt. We never did that. You've got kids disrespecting their mom and their dad. What do you think they're going to do when they come to school? We come from the street, so we know what the lingo is. We know what we're dealing with.
>PT:What is it with the pants?
DF: It's in style and that's their swag. I tell the young girls if a young man is walking around with his pants hanging off, and if he can't pull them up, how is he going to pull you up?
>PT: Where have you made your biggest impact?
DF: I see the results of my work when I see a young kid who might have graduated from college, or I see a young kid that I can help get a job. Or I see a young man we helped out who showed me he has a son he is trying to take care of because of the work that we have done or something we embedded in him.
>PT:What's the quickest way to a youthful offender's heart?
DF: Feed them, get their hair cut, clothe them. Take them out of their environment to get them used to doing something different. Take them to a [Buffalo] Bills game. A lot of kids haven't been to a water park.
>PT:Is it tough being a father today?
DF: Yes. We don't have the fathers we had 10 to 15 years ago to help young men be the fathers they need to be. Fathers don't get enough respect like mothers do. Fathers take a back seat to mothers. A lot of fathers out here are actually taking care of their kids themselves.
>PT:What kind of a father are you?
DF: A great father. I'm not boasting. My young boy? We do a lot together. We tell each other that we love each other. That's really important. It means a lot.
On the Web: Dwayne Ferguson talks about how children have changed at www.buffalonews.com/life