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Rock Island Academy Holds Million Father March


It's a bright Monday morning at Rock Island Academy. The kids haven't arrived yet, but there's already a crowd forming.

It's a bright Monday morning at Rock Island Academy. The kids have not arrived yet, but there's already a crowd forming. More than 60 adults, almost all of them men--form lines on either side of the front doors. Among them are fathers, teachers, religious leaders, police officers, and even high school students.

And when the students walk up to the doors, the cheering starts.

That cheering is the sound of of the Million Father March. The opportunity at the beginning of the school year to show students that men in the community support them.

One of those men is Dr. Reginald Lawrence. He's attended every march since he became the Superintendent of Rock Island schools 3 years ago.

"I know oftentimes that some of our families--they don't have their fathers there. they have teachers, they look for role models, and I want them to just see the gamut of different males that are here today. All the different uniforms and outfits, so that when they see some of these faces throughout the city they can say: 'Hey I met that officer,' or 'Hey, I met that government official.'"

As the students file in, Dr. Lawrence and the other men give them high fives and fist-bumps--a little more distant than the hugs of past years, but they're still giving it their all.

There's another man here, but he's not standing in the line--Doug Rowland, pastor at the Rock Island Bible Church, is out on the grass, directing students so they know what's going on.

"This is about these kids knowing that there's men in this community--[aside] Hey, good morning, how are you? Got a mask? Go grab one right here and then go get some high fives, bud, alright?--to let them know that there are men in the community that are for them and behind them and supporting them. And so man, these kids need all the help and encouragement that they can get."

The first Million Father March in Rock Island was held seven years ago. Amber Grant, a teacher at the Rock Island Academy, started organizing the event.

"We have a lot of single parents. We have grandparents raising kids. And we as a couple teachers we were like: 'Hey, let's get men involved in our students' lives.' And our event supports and increases male participation within our school environment and we welcome volunteers to come in. It also...with everything going in our community and the world, it is a public way to display our unity within our community."

Grant says the name of the event was inspired by the Million Man March, a 1995 gathering of African-American men in Washington, D.C. to advocate for civil rights.

She says the March in Rock Island has grown over the last seven years.

"Our first year we didn't know what to expect, and we had maybe 15-20 people. And as the years grew on, people heard about it and they want to do it every year and they do. The last 17 months have been so chaotic with COVID and in and out of school this one kind of it's a little close to home just because our kids and our staff deserve this more than anything right now."

Aaryan Balu first set foot in audio journalism at WTJU Charlottesville and WRIR Richmond, and now works as WVIK Quad Cities NPR's Fellowship Host.