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Forum Explores What 'A Man Is'

A focus on intertwining dreams and responsibilities

What does it mean to be a "responsible" and "contributing" young male to both one's family and community in this impersonal era of technology and conflicting social pressures? That question drew 60 participants to the third annual "A Man Is" conference of the Northern Virginia Regional Fatherhood Coalition.

Held at Alexandria's Nannie J. Lee Recreation Center on April 9, the day-long gathering focused on such topics as "Spirituality and Manhood," "Decision Making and the Consequences - The Good, The Bad & The Ugly," "Entrepreneurship," and "Don't Play a Playa." It also presented former Redskins star Dan "Big Daddy" Wilkinson with the coalition's "Father of the Year" Award.

"As one of 11 children, my father instilled in me a pride in who I was as a boy. There are so many things tearing at our children today, war, disease and other social pressures, it is essential that we support them," Wilkinson said after receiving the award from Mayor William D. Euille.

WILKINSON was recognized for his support of the overall "A Man Is" program and particularly for his financial support of its summer tennis program when government funding was denied at the last minute. He wrote a personal check for $2,500 so the program could move forward, according to William Dearman, executive director, Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority, a primary sponsor of the program.

"A couple of summers ago we [ARHA] promised youngsters they could attend tennis camp. Then the funds dried up. Mr. Wilkinson was contacted about our plight and he did not hesitate to write a check and personally came to ARHA headquarters to present it," Dearman said.

"Mr. Wilkinson cares about children. He is the father of five, four girls and a boy. He is proof, it's not just about being an athlete. It's about what we do for our community. He is a fine example of what a man is," Dearman said.

"Even though this program today is about what a man is, doesn't mean that doesn't apply to our females as well," Euille said in presenting the plaque to Wilkinson which acknowledged his "outstanding service to the children and families of Alexandria."

"Our role in society is a very large one and we have a responsibility in this nation to be responsible. I urge you to put to use what you have learned here today. And, I personally want to thank Dan for taking up this call," Euille said.

DURING THE SEMINAR on "Defining Manhood," Franklyn M. Malone, president, Northern Virginia Regional Fatherhood Coalition, and ARHA's ombudsman for community safety and family outreach, told attendees, "We want to bring you into the fold. To get you to think about your responsibilities."

He said, "During this year's conference, which is entitled "Manhood, Fatherhood and Family," it is our intention to introduce participants to information, education and destination that will lead to healthy lifestyles and positive attitudes about being a responsible and trustworthy individual."

Conference workshops were designed to stimulate participants to think about their everyday decisions and to seek the highest and best alternatives, according to Malone. "You will be challenged to define what a real man is. You will be introduced to individuals who made decisions that had consequences, good and bad," Malone said.

In addition to serving as co-chair of the conference, along with Christophe Baird, Northern Virginia Urban League, Malone was also recently elected chairman, Alexandria Commission on Employment, which is working to strengthen the summer youth program. "Our mission is to counter the gang culture by putting as many youth to work as possible," he said.

Now in its third year, the coalition partners with 25 organizations and individuals such as American Express Financial Partners, Boys and Books Club of Alexandria, JobLink, ITT Technical Institute, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Alexandria Kiwanis, Alexandria Seaport Foundation, City Councilman Ludwig Gaines, and William D. Euille & Associates.

Wrapping up the awards luncheon, William Chesley, chairman, Northern Virginia Regional Fatherhood Coalition Advisory Board, said, "I hope you will all leave here today with a meaningful learning experience."