Kenny Carter walks into the community room in the Oceanview II apartment building in Far Rockaway, Queens, and pulls out a waist-high cardboard sign tucked between the doorway and the refrigerator. He places it gently against the wall. The sign reads: “FAITH, Fathers Alive in the Hood. SHOW LOVE GET LOVE.” Below the words is a silhouette of a man holding the hand of a young child.
His weekly support group meeting for young black men—intended for fathers but welcome to all—has technically already begun, but the room is still empty on this February evening. They’ll show up when they see Carter, and he was running a bit late. His group is usually small. On most nights, there will be five to seven members present.
“My first year here was me in this room by myself,” Carter said. “I’d be sitting here for two hours, three hours by myself.”
FAITH, which stands for Fathers Alive in the Hood, is Carter’s brainchild and passion project. Every Wednesday night, he hosts the FAITH support group, where he invites young men in black communities to discuss life, fatherhood and societal expectations in a positive way. But Carter and his boys do more than just talk. They also organize protests against violence in black communities, leading marches in housing projects all across New York City. As the national spotlight has shifted to protests and movements against police brutality, Carter, a married father of two, believes there isn’t enough outrage over the violence that occurs within black communities on a daily basis. So, he created FAITH out of that frustration, in order to empower other black fathers and encourage them to raise their voices.
“A lot of us just watch the news and say, ‘that’s messed up,’” Carter said. “If you quiet, then that means you agree.”
Carter remembers, in 2006, when he heard about the killing of Sean Bell, a young black man from Queens who was shot by three police officers. The call to action that took place in the community moved him. He took part in the marches that shut down Jamaica Avenue.
“I started to see the differences and the injustices that transpired in our community,” he said.
Another death in 2012 made Carter even more concerned. A surveillance camera in Jamaica Houses captured the shooting of 18-year-old Darryl Adams, who was killed by a pair of young men for personal reasons. The killing underscored how Carter felt about violence in the community. The video spread, Carter said, but he noticed that it didn’t yield the same response as the police related killings that he had protested against.
So Carter changed the focus of his activism and now uses Facebook to mobilize support. Today, the organization’s Facebook page has over 2,000 likes. Through the page, Carter organizes peace marches and volunteer efforts (his group helped with Hurricane Sandy recovery in Coney Island, for example, handing out food, water and blankets).
One of Carter’s biggest marches to date was this past June on behalf of Jahhad Marshall, a 22-year-old aspiring chef who was killed in a gunfight between local rivals in Queensbridge Houses, a public housing development in Long Island City. Jahhad was the conflict’s only fatality, despite not being initially involved. Carter has known Jahhad’s father, Eric Marshall, for a long time—Marshall used to be Carter’s barber—and when Carter heard about Jahhad’s death, he needed to act.
“Love is an action word,” he said of organizing the march. “There has to be some kind of action being done.”
The “Unity Rally,” as it was called, stretched through each block of the development. A video on YouTube shows Carter, wearing a black flat-brimmed Giants hat and a suit with the FAITH logo embroidered onto his jacket, above his heart. He screams into a microphone: “Enough of us killing us.” The crowd yells it back. He screams again: “To save our children is a must.”
“Any kind of march is always to engage the community,” he said. “Show that their silence is an agreement.”
Marshall thought the march was important. “It was a positive thing to do and it needed to be done,” he said. “Maybe it could prevent this from happening to somebody else’s child.”
But Carter also believes that it’s important for communities plagued by violence to foster more love for each other. And forging deep relationships, like those created in his support group, makes that possible, he argues. “Out of everything, it’s just forming relationships,” he said. “There’s genuine love.”
Carter has had an impact, even in small ways. Tony Perez, for example, is a 26-year-old construction worker from Far Rockaway who has five kids—3 of his own, and 2 step kids. He says the meetings have helped him as a father and a community member. Along with four other young men, he trickles into the Oceanview II community room for Carter’s meeting.
“It means a lot, man, I don’t know where to start,” he said. “Keeps me away from negativity.”
Perez cites Carter’s rule of the “5 Ps”: “Proper preparation prevents poor performance.” He also says he has called Carter in the middle of the night for life advice. “It’s more of a friendship with Kenny,” Perez said.
Not everyone in the group is a father, but those who are also find a space to speak about the pressures, expectations and excitement about fatherhood. Perez says that the most valuable thing he’s learned is the importance of being there for your kids. “Even if it’s just spelling out a word to the kid, picking them up from school, asking them how their day was,” Perez said.
Carter couldn’t agree more, arguing that young men don’t necessarily need to be financially established before they can make time for their children. “Time is more valuable than money,” Carter explains. “The only hood that unites every man to the child is fatherhood.”
The day before the meeting, Carter received a text message from a regular member. “Hey wassup Kenny I’m in college in Poughkeepsie Playing Basketball ,” it read. “I won’t be able to make the group , thanks for all the lectures , they helped me get here.” He posted the text message on Facebook, expressing his pride that his talks had done something.
“We try to spark that light inside of ‘em,” he said, looking around the room. “All of them got light on them.”