Liberty City is a Florida community of just over 43,000 people living less than two miles from the 79th Street entrance to Interstate I-95 and minutes from downtown Miami. With a median household income of $21,000, many of the residents – 95% of whom are Black — live in extreme poverty. The city is considered one of the most dangerous in the nation, with a crime rate more than double the national average. Single mothers head a third of all households, triple the rate of nearby Miami, with less than 10 percent of households including married couples with children.
Last Saturday, at the request of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, PAIRS Foundation began delivering relationship skills training classes to the parents of fourth and fifth graders at Liberty City Elementary School and continued yesterday with programs for the students themselves as well as the teachers, administrators, and staff who impact the youngsters’ lives each day. The weekly classes will continue over the next month.
In 15 years of delivering programs that empower fathers, marriages and families, I have never seen groups so enthusiastically embrace the opportunity for learning, growth, and discovery that I witnessed in this first week with the Liberty City participants.
Students, parents, and teachers alike quickly accepted our invitation to explore how the way we communicate under stress impacts the quality of our relationships, eagerly practicing new styles that promote confiding, effective listening, boost self-esteem, and establish a foundation of good will.
The adults fast recognized the price they paid in their own lives for not getting their needs for bonding (emotional openness and physical closeness) met and considered how the deprivation of basic biological needs had led to distress, distrust, a sense of dis-ease (which often evolves into disease), and unhappiness, along with the range of behaviors many turn to in the hope of masking the pain they feel as a result of loneliness, isolation and disconnection.
Together, we explored the relationship road map, considering how our relationships as fathers, couples, and families impact our ability to pursue cherished dreams and aspirations, whether to raise children, get and keep jobs, pursue academic goals, or achieve success in any other area of our lives. We talked about the impact of those decisions on children, how our relationships affect them, and the role our choices as adults have on their ability to grow up with the love, support and resources vitally important to realizing their own potential.
Over the weeks ahead, we’ll share powerful exercises and tools for enhancing communication, understanding emotions in ourselves and others, and dealing with differences and conflicts in ways that promote closeness, cooperation and understanding.
Our collective hope is that this experience will strengthen the families of Liberty City, help more fathers stay actively, responsibly engaged in the lives of their sons and daughters, and provide new opportunities for couples and families of all types to create lives in which their dreams for themselves and their children have a better chance of coming true.