By Joel Hall
On a balmy Thursday evening, scores of families gathered on the lawn of the Historic Clayton County Courthouse to celebrate the third annual Clayton County Marriage and Family Day.
The Clayton County Marriage and Family Initiative -- started three years ago as a covenant among 75 local pastors, judges, and county officials to strengthen the family unit -- used the evening to bring attention to the importance of marriage, and fatherhood in particular.
With Father's Day coming this Sunday, the initiative sponsored an essay contest entitled, "My Dynamite Dad," in which local elementary students from all grade levels were asked to answer, "Why my dad is dynamite."
"We are actually reaching out to fathers and trying to emphasize fatherhood and the importance of fatherhood," said Mimi Holland, chairperson of the Marriage and Family Initiative. "Fathers are so absolutely essential to children growing up healthy mentally, physically, emotionally, and economically."
The winning essays belonged to: Amazing Warren of Anderson Elementary; Abby Meletio, a home school student; Olivia Bryant of East Clayton Elementary; Amanda Roberts of Jackson Elementary; Zaire Baldwin of Jackson Elementary; and Hannah Williams of Arnold Elementary.
The six contest winners read their essays, one by one, praising their fathers for making drool-inducing barbecue, serving in the military, or working more than one job to provide for their needs, among other accolades. Clayton County Commissioner Virginia Gray and Board of Commissioners Chairman Eldrin Bell were present to give words of praise and encouragement to the children and their parents.
"I am just so inspired to see all of these families here tonight," said Gray. "It has been really an inspiration for me to serve on this board with this initiative and all of the planning that we are doing, as far as trying to bring Clayton County back to a place where we can see families who are united."
"Divorce and separation often visit our lives, but it does not prevent you from being a family," said Bell. "If we are, as a society, to be more than a footnote in the future history books, we must rededicate ourselves to the whole notion of family."
Winnie Baldwin, of Morrow, accepted an award on behalf of her daughter, Zaire, who wrote the essay about her father, Herman Green. Green and Baldwin have been separated for the majority of Zaire's life, but the love Zaire and her father have for one another is clearly important.
"I'm really proud of the relationship she has maintained with her father," said Baldwin. "It means a lot to both of us that she still acknowledges him, even though we aren't together. They've always maintained that close relationship. It's almost the flip side of what is happening here.
"When parents move on, it's important for them [children] to keep in touch with their biological parents," Baldwin continued. "We try to do our best to let her know that, even though I am with somebody else and he is with somebody else, we still love her the same."
Anthony Bryant's daughter, Olivia, wrote one of the winning essays. A part-time student and systems administrator at a patient advocate service in Buckhead, Bryant is the father of four girls and two boys, aged 10, nine, seven, six, four, and two.
He urged new fathers not to give up on their families.
"A lot of problems arise because the parents might not be there for any reason," said Bryant. "Whenever I think about quitting, I always think of them."