ROCK ISLAND, Ill. — Quad Cities men gathered to support school kids at Rock Island Academy elementary school by offering high fives and words of encouragement before the school day started on Friday Sept. 23.
The event is part of the Million Father March initiative that encourages men to "show their commitment to the educational lives of their children throughout the school year by escorting children to school on this day."
"It's an opportunity for all the men in the community, whether you're educators, police department, firefighters, pastors, community based organizations. It's an opportunity for men to come out to just welcome our kids back to school," Dr. Reginald Lawrence, superintendent of the Rock Island-Milan School District said.
Dozens of men and teens were in attendance, including those from the Rock Island Police and Fire departments, Augustana College, St. Ambrose University, the YMCA, Martin Luther King Jr. Center, the Rock Island High School basketball team and staffers from the Rock Island-Milan School District.
The men lined up in front of the school on the steps leading into the main entrance, clapping, cheering and offering high fives and fist bumps.
"Our students are excited to get a chance to walk through the gauntlet if you will, to get fist bumps and shake hands," Dr. Lawrence said.
The event has been held annually as long as Dr. Lawrence has been with the district, at a minimum of four years.
"It is awesome for the kids. Sometimes, they look, you know, a little scared. And then once they get that first fist bump, that first high five, it's all over, man, they love it," Tom Ryan, principal at Rock Island Academy, said.
"You oftentimes hear about how sometimes they don't have the father figures and the male figures, role models in their lives. So this is an opportunity for students at Rock Island Academy to see men from all across Rock Island who care about them...to just say, we are here to support you." Dr. Lawrence said.
Mr. Ryan said this is a message they try to send in the school building and district-wide. "We're here for you. We want you to be here. We want you to be safe. We want you to know that all these people care for you," Ryan said.
"It's just unbelievable how the community represents itself. I mean, if you went through and found out where every one of these individuals were from, it would blow your mind," Ryan said.
After the reception line, the community joined the students inside for a continental breakfast and continued conversation.
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