Contact for press inquiries, interviews, and photo requests: Cheryl Todmann | Cheryl.Todmann@kbcc.cuny.edu | 646-897-2508
Photo caption: L to R: Gregory Stephensen, Kymel Yard, Clifford Mondesir, CFA students Jordan and Nikko | Clifford Mondesir and Nikko
Planting the Seeds of Brotherhood
The holiday season came early – and for some just in time – when members of Kappa Beta Sigma, the Brooklyn, New York Alumni Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, came to the campus with gifts for the children of students in the CUNY Fatherhood Academy (CFA) at Kingsborough Community College, and life experiences to share.
Founded by three young African-American male students in 1914 at Howard University in Washington, D.C., Phi Beta Sigma embraces the ideals of brotherhood, scholarship, and service. With a motto, “Culture for Service and Service for Humanity,” the founding members believed they should return their newly acquired skills to the communities from which they had come.
Open to current and expecting biological fathers between the ages of 18 and 30, living, the CUNY Fatherhood Academy offers two free programs: a 16-week high school equivalency prep program and a 10-week college and career prep program. In addition to academics, the program promotes responsible parenting, college readiness, and work among unemployed and underemployed fathers.
In a round-table session with members of the fraternity, the students shared what the program has meant to them, including the changes they’ve seen in themselves and each other.
“Growing up in middle school, high school, I did not want to learn. I came to better myself for my kids,” admitted Nico, a CFA student with three sons. “Since I've been in this program, I feel like our teachers and staff really, really care about our well-being, not just our education.”
“Not enough men see brotherhood in action and many suffer in our modern world from not having strong bonds with other men,” noted Kymel Yard, CFA’s exuberant director, who is excited about the partnership with the fraternity. “When I first started working here, I kept saying I want to make our students think of themselves as a fraternity – like they’re connected to something bigger — because that changes how you view the world. We teach men to be an island when they are much, much stronger as an army.”
Acknowledging that being a father is a tough job, Clifford Mondesir, president of the Kappa Beta Sigma chapter, urged the students to be mindful of how important it is to be present in the lives of their children. “Don't ever think that you're not doing enough. A lot of the world is built on social media, television, computers, but you're going to be the best experience that they have,” he reassured them. “You being there and putting in that effort will speak volumes in their lives. It'll provide a platform for them. So that struggle…seeing you push them and hold them, being there when they’re scared, talking to them and making them laugh…. They remember all of that, so don’t sell yourself short. You may not have everything, but you have a lot.”
Noting that the subject of money kept coming up, Gregory Steffensen, a fraternity member for about 40 years, said: “Please understand something: You're more than money. I'm an only child from a single parent. I know what the struggle is all about. I know as what my mom went through when I wanted something and she didn't have the means to get it to me. Over time, though, I learned that her presence — her being there — was more than any present she could have ever provided for me.”
Even so, there was much appreciation of the donated gifts. “If it wasn’t for things like this…with my job right now, I’m not getting any hours so I had no gifts for my son. I kept explaining to the older two ‘I’ve got you, but you’ve got to wait.’ Now that y’all helped us, I felt so relieved and happy that I have something to present and not nothing,” said Nico.
Jordan, a CFA student who has been trying to piece himself back together after splitting with the mother of his son, shared that it’s been a rough few months. A seasonal worker at Amazon, he was one of 10,000 workers who had been laid off. “I have not seen my son as much as I want to lately because I don't have a job. I just started collecting unemployment. I didn't have any money for gifts for him and it really hurt me inside just knowing that Christmas around the corner.” To the groups’ delight, Aaron Lewis, who recently marked his one-year anniversary as a fraternity member, disclosed that he’s an operations manager at Amazon and offered to help Jordan find another position there.
Juan Perez, past fraternity president, emphasized the importance of brotherhood: “You gentlemen want each other to be the best versions of each other. That's what real brotherhood is all about: It's not about you doing it individually or you doing it individually. It's about the collective ‘we.’”
He added: “The hardest part is being kind and being vulnerable. It's easy for us to be here to help someone: Giving is easy. When you're able to say ‘I need help’…that's when brotherhood really starts to grow.”