John Fielder, a born and raised New Yorker, has always been a savior of sorts for his community.
Before turning 60, he was an emergency medical technician (EMT) for nearly two decades, and before that, a phlebotimist. Today, at 64, he serves on his district’s community education council as well as one of the 16 active Bronx Fathers Taking Action committee members.
“I’m appointed by the borough president to oversee construction of schools, issues of building maintenance, curriculum, and parent involvement,” says Fielder about his role on the education council. “I also train parents to do what I do.”
Fielder explains the board is made of of 11 members, and there are 116 schools in the district, including elementary and middle schools. And through Bronx Fathers Taking Action, which was founded in March 2012, he provides resources and fosters relationships to reinforce fathers as positive role models for their kids.
Although his seven children, three girls and four boys – ranging in age from 20 to 27 – are all grown up, playing an active role in the youth of his community is still crucial to him.
“My three youngest kids are foster kids, and we adopted them,” says Fielder about the family he shares with his wife, who is a school teacher. “That got me involved in special needs kids.”
He explains that two of his adopted children had slight learning disabilities because of the environment they came out of.
“I was told the only thing they could get out of high school was a certificate, but I wanted them to have a real diploma,” says Fielder. “That’s what got me involved. I became president of the PTA [Parent Teacher Association] for three years. Then I became the president of the district’s education council.”
The more you’re involved, he says, the more you learn how the system works and how the system doesn’t work.
“This is a business of educating our children, and it’s important we understand the system,” says Fielder. “One of my biggest issues now is we don’t have vocational schools left in the Bronx. Now [kids] have to pay to go to other schools and have a school loan bill that’s outrageous.”
Although Fielder also commits some of his free time to his church choir, he’s proud to say that Bronx Fathers Taking Action is one of his most important projects to date. In addition to holding monthly meetings, and reaching out to different churches, the group is partnering with a total of five middle schools and high schools in Manhattan and the Bronx to create mentoring programs.
“Boys at that age, especially, need someone to look up to,” says Fielder. “We need to mentor them on financial aid, health benefits and financial literacy – the importance of budgeting, saving having bank accounts. What they see are guys with fancy rims and jewelry, but they’re living in the projects. What’s the value in that?”
Father’s Day weekend, he says, the group is holding a stickball event for older kids, and for the younger kids, a bicycle safety demonstration. In total, a couple of hundred youth and parents are expected to attend.
“I want to get more fathers involved, because when you get more fathers involved, kids do better, because they have an example to follow,” he says. “Kids are not looking for a father with lots of money, just somebody who’s involved.”
To Fielder, fatherhood is one of the most important jobs there is, and it’s a job that never ends.
“Fatherhood means mentoring, loving, training, becoming a good example, and having expectations for your children to do better than you,” he says.
His advice for those younger than him:
“Do what you have to, so you can do what you want to do. Be a leader and not a follower, and have high expectations for yourself.”