Conference focuses on positive male role models
By Tony Graf firstname.lastname@example.org May 6, 2012 8:56PM
Sixth-grader DeAndre Lucas (left), 12, talks about how he chose his father Jamain (right) to be his mentor during the Boys to Men Conference at Fairmont School Friday, May 4, 2012, at 735 Green Garden Place in Lockport. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 8, 2012 8:10AM
LOCKPORT TOWNSHIP — Jamain Lucas is a father shaping the life of a young man, much like the way he shapes the concrete in his construction work.
He sets boundaries, he shows care, he is protective. When his work is finished, the form and strength will last for many years.
On Friday, Fairmont School welcomed fathers and sons to a special conference, titled “Boys to Men.” The fathers and other male role models showed up with the younger male students who invited them. They listened to speakers together, participated in workshops and had meals together.
Deandre Lucas explained why he chose his father, Jamain, to attend the conference with him.
“He’s a better influence on me. He teaches me right from wrong, and he’s just a better person who I can choose than anybody,” Deandre said.
Jamain is an alumnus of Fairmont School. Jamain and his wife, Sandrell, are raising six children, five of whom currently attend Fairmont.
The father saw a good purpose in Friday’s conference.
“They’re trying to make a difference in the neighborhood,” Jamain said. “They’re trying to show that men don’t have to hang out on the corner, they don’t have to sell drugs and be in gangs.”
Fairmont is a neighborhood with high poverty and unemployment rates. Jamain remembers a time a few decades ago when there were not many good role models for young men.
With Friday’s conference, Fairmont Superintendent Sonya Whitaker had a goal to overwhelm male students with positive male images.
“Although our students have confident men in their life, I felt like they needed more examples,” Whitaker said. “They needed to be overwhelmed with positive images of males doing different types of things, so they can decide what their interest levels are and also expand their own vision and their own dream for their life, to a larger level.”
Jamain and Sandrell Lucas have stayed married and kept their family together through thick and thin.
Their six children are Joann, in eighth grade; Deandre, in sixth grade; Javon, in fifth grade; Jamain Jr., in third grade; Betty, in kindergarten; and Malachi, age 3.
At one time, when work was scarce and the money ran out, the family lived in a shelter — father, mother and four children. They have gone through times of unemployment that occur in the construction industry during a lagging economy. Their hardships have tested their commitment, and have made it stronger.
“I want to teach my kids that you have two parents in the home — Mom and Dad. A lot of homes don’t have that these days,” Jamain said. “And you don’t have to be hanging out with the gangs. You don’t have to do stuff that’s not right. You don’t have to go to jail. You can grow up, get an education and work.”
Jamain said he has two children from previous relationships. Looking back, he wishes he had all of his children in one relationship.
Jamain and Sandrell began their family of six children in Fairmont. On Friday, the father looked back on his goals.
“My goals and dreams were to settle down, give my life to Christ and just raise my family,” Jamain said. “I want to let the people in the community know that you can raise your kids to live a better life. I just thank God for that.”
Deandre has a vision for his life as well.
“My goals and dreams right now are to get my education so when I grow up I can be a lawyer,” he said.
That means attending Fairmont, then Lockport Township High School, then college and then law school.
Deandre said his father keeps him on track toward that dream.
“The way he keeps me on track is that if I don’t do my homework, I can’t do anything fun,” he said.
Jamain added: “I let them know that you can be anything you want to be. You keep your grades up, you can go anyplace. They see how I and their mom have struggled, and how sometimes we still struggle. And so I teach my kids: Go to school and get your education. Go far in life. It’s a big old world out there.”
Jamain attended Fairmont, then Joliet West High School, and then entered the work force. Throughout the ups and downs in the construction industry, he has learned to trust in God.
“I’ve got to give thanks to God first. I know that he makes it happen. If it wasn’t for God, I would be nothing. I have been out of work for a while. But I thank God for my church family. They’re very supportive. When we fall on hard times, they pick us up. You’ve got to have faith,” he said.
The Lucas family attends Prayer Tower Church of God in Christ, now meeting in Lockport, with Pastor Warren Dorris Jr. And Jamain passes down his faith to his children.
“I instill those values in them a lot,” he said.
Boys to Men
On Friday, Whitaker brought out the best in the powerful connection between father and son. And Whitaker made sure that if students could not bring their fathers, they brought men who were important to them. Those men poured in by the dozens, from every social background. They filled the gym and made it happen.
Fairmont’s young men sat next to older men. Fairmont graduates, now at Lockport Township High School, also brought older male role models.
They watched a video about Derek Redmond — the runner who tore his hamstring at the 1992 Olympics, but made it to the finish line, supported by a man who broke through security and held onto the young athlete.
The man was his father.
For old and young, Whitaker provided a full day of energetic, highly educated male speakers at Fairmont.
The audience heard from Samuel Betances, who holds a doctoral degree from Harvard University and has worked as a consultant to three U.S. presidents. Betances stressed the need for students to read, to study and to become educable.
“In the 21st century, you need to work sometimes with your hands, sometimes with your back, but more and more ... with your minds,” Betances said to rousing applause as he ended his speech.
Jamain and his son Deandre listened in the audience. Jamain wants his children to have a better life than he has had.
“I believe that God allows us to go through a certain thing for a reason. I and my kids had to live in a shelter for six months. It just taught us a valuable lesson,” he said.
“That’s why I try to instill in my kids to go to school and get an education.”
And yet, even without a college education, Jamain Lucas has something to teach his children: Life is not perfect. Hang on. Be there. Pour your soul into it like the cement that creates the buildings of the future.