Newark fathers wait to dance with their daughters

By Barry Carter | The Star-Ledger
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on March 03, 2017

 

Leroy Mitchell had to get his hands on the hottest ticket in Newark last week.

A father-daughter dance was being held in the Central Ward, but he found himself on a waiting list days before the Sunday event.

That caught me off guard.

Not the dance.

I'm talking about the waiting list.

Mitchell, 43, of Newark couldn't believe it, either.

"Oh no,'' he said. "I can't have that. I can't break no promises to my baby," said Mitchell, speaking about his 7-year-old daughter, Jocelyn.

The sponsor of the dance -  SHE Wins Inc., a Newark nonprofit community organization -  planned for 70 people but the requests from dads kept coming.

Mitchell bugged the organizers, calling SHE Wins Inc. three times, maybe more. This was the second year for the dance, but the demand, even to the organizer's surprise, dwarfed last year's turn out.

"We had no idea it was going to be like this,'' said SHE Wins Founder A'Dorian Murray-Thomas.

However, her organization was able to handle the unexpected demand and host a masquerade Mardi Gras-style dance in the gymnasium of Thrive Academy, a charter school located in the former Eighteenth Avenue School.

More than 120 men, many of them dapper, escorted their 5- to 14-year-old daughters, who wore pretty dresses and gowns with fancy hairstyles topped with tiaras.

Mitchell was relieved once he purchased a ticket, but he and many men I talked to were proud that so many fathers came out strong.

Too often, they said, fathers in urban communities such as Newark are not seen as being loving, responsible men.

"Fathers get a bad rap,'' said Adrian Rollins, owner of a trucking company in Newark, who came with his 10-year-old twins - Adriana and Qiora. "This is a beautiful thing to see. It's important for us to show that what you read isn't everything that you see.''

Inside the gym, the dads whipped out their camera phones and went on Facebook Live so everyone in their social media network could catch a glimpse of the festivities.

The kids were dancing, some with their dads, like 5-year-old Madison Williams. She was looking at her father, Lawrence Williams, 43, of Newark the whole time, laughing when he spun her around.

The best moment, though, came when the music was turned off so the dads could tell their daughters what they think of them.

Everyone stood in a circle, and each father was given a mirror for their child to hold.

Shelton Hunter, a grandfather and Newark native, had the men collectively repeat positive affirmations to their children.

The male voices filled the room and the men told their daughters that they were talented, fabulous and successful, and that anyone who saw them differently was not worth their time or energy.

And lastly, they said, "I pray that you always see yourself as I see you.''

The fathers then wrote more personal messages on the back of the mirror after they shared another affectionate thought.

To Adriana, Rollins wrote that she was "fierce," "courageous" and "smart." And to  Qiora: "You are the epitome of success.''

Marquis Gordon'El , 36, of Newark, didn't hold back either, telling Nevaeh Parker, 14, that she is a beautiful bright young lady.

"Don't let nobody stop you,'' he said.

After the week that Mitchell had, wondering if he would get a ticket, he wanted Jocelyn to know this:

"You're my life and my world. Nothing or anything comes before you.''

On the day of event, he took her to get a manicure and pedicure in the morning. He even went online and selected a few dresses for her to choose from.

Joseph Huntsberry, 32, of Newark, hit the stores the same day of the dance with Madison, his 6-year-old daughter.

"Who picked out the dress,'' I asked.

She pointed to dad.

"Did he do a good job?"

She grinned, nodding her head yes.

"A lot of times we (fathers) are looked at as just hard workers, but we like to have fun with our little girls, too,'' Huntsberry said.

They came out in droves for this moment. Fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers and mentors.

Marquis Speed, 30, of Newark surprised his three nieces - Judaea, 12, Janelle, 8 and Jah'asia, 9 -- when they thought he couldn't make it.

He was filling in for their father, Carthell Speed, who died two years ago. "I'm here for my brother,'' Speed said. "I'm like a father to them.''

Now, join me in putting your hands together for Xavier Shipmon of Newark.  He was the youngest gentleman in the house. The 15-year-old teen brought his neighbor, 9-year-old Egypt Andrews-Spence

Her mother, Sharon Andrews-Spencer, said Egypt looks up to him as a big brother. Egypt's dad had to work and her uncle was sick, but Xavier stepped up at the last minute.

"I didn't mind,'' he said.

Take a bow, young man.

But two songs summed up the evening the best when the fathers walked with their princesses to the middle of the gym for a dance.

There they held on to each other, swaying side to side, listening to "Dance With My Father,'' by Luther Vandross.

The slow, emotional ballad faded to an upbeat song that was just as appropriate.

"Isn't She Lovely" by Stevie Wonder.

Yes, she is.

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