As the children entered Lincoln School on Friday morning, the first full day of school for all children at the facility, they got a little something extra: their own cheer section.

“Hello!”

“Have a nice day!”

“You have this!”

All of this cheering, and more, echoed from every side of Lincoln School as the students entered. Men from the Southern Indiana Mentoring Academy (SIWA) stood nearby, offering handshakes, high-fives and hugs to students entering the school.

This is just the beginning – especially since children will be seeing them throughout the year, according to SIWA Acting President James Clements.

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“But being here from the beginning, as well as the end, is a very powerful signal and message that we are able to send to the child. And so we are excited, more likely than the children,” said he declared.

Clements was among 19 men lined up to greet the children. Members of the Evansville Commission on the Social Status of African American Men and SIWA joined forces to launch the Million Father March.

The Million Father March began in 2004 as part of the Black Star Project. The Black Star Project was created in Chicago by Phillip Jackson to “improve the quality of life in Chicago’s Black American and Latino communities by closing the racial gap in educational achievement”.

Five-year-old twins Nayla Blackwell, left, and Na'lani Blackwell, right, are driven to school by their father Tamaje Blackwell, center, greeted by members of the Southern Indiana Mentoring Academy during the Million Father March in Evansville, Ind.  , Friday morning, August 12, 2022.

Since then, it has expanded to other cities to encourage fathers and families to engage in the education of their children.

“Being here on the first day back, certainly lifts their veil, it encourages them and gives them the motivation they might need… We’re here to fill that void, if you will,” Clements said.

Including Evansville, there are more than 700 cities in the United States that host their own version of the march at the start of each school year.

Since its founding in 2018, SIWA has been stationed in Lincoln and available to other schools in the city.

“It’s our heart’s desire to impact the school-to-prison pipeline,” Clements said. “From being in school to mentoring and supporting teachers and students, to planning trips and providing supplies for parents and students, we want to have a big impact on children’s lives.

Lincoln School students Micheal Duckworth, left, and Antonio Burns, right, are greeted with fist bumps by members of the Southern Indiana Mentoring Academy during the Million Father March in Evansville, Ind., on Friday morning August 12, 2022.

Support is something Lincoln staff look forward to, said manager Tijuanna Tolliver. This is the first year that she has been able to open the school with them.

“I just think it sets the tone, ‘Hey, we’re here,’ and ‘We’re here to support you,'” she said.

Tolliver retired in 2020 to care for her father who fell ill, but she still missed being at school and interacting with children.

Her love for the school comes from her father, Anthony Brooks Sr., a known civil rights leader and city manager.

After his death, she knew that re-entering the school system was a goal for her. In October 2021, her goal was achieved after she was asked to be Principal of Lincoln School.

Something she believes happened for a reason.

“I think our kids need to see men who look like them,” she said. “Not only look like them, but just show interest in their upbringing.”