Written and interviewed by Warnell Jones
If you’ve been paying attention to life over the last thirty years or so, you’d come to notice that the fabric of the traditional family has been tearing away ever so steadily. Now, that doesn’t mean that single parent homes cannot work, but rather that the optimal situation of two-parent homes seems to be fading away.
In many cases, fathers are not an equal part of their children’s lives – sometimes, even dictated by the judicial system to be this way. Many single mothers have taken the task of attempting to be both mother and father because there was no proper resolution to the relationship, nor proper mediation within. It is an issue within our society that has changed the “norm” when it comes to family.
In the wake of her own family troubles, Ajawavi Ajavon found a true calling in the field of family re-attachment – focusing on FATHERS. Her company, DAB Mediation, has spawned an organization called Every Man Counts. It’s through this organization that she, along with others, have created hope and confidence for men in the areas of child support, co-parenting, and relationship mediation.
HHF: Thank you so much for taking sometime today to talk to us about your great organization, Every Man Counts. How did this awesome thing get started?
Ajawavi Ajavon: Ok. Every Man Counts started from my own personal experience. I was married for eighteen years, and when I filed for separation, my ex-husband separated from not only me, but also our children. I saw my kids go through heartache, and now I had to take on the role of being “mom” and “dad”. I was the “den mother”, the “cub scout mother”, the “girl scout mother”, and the “basketball mom” – I had to split myself three ways, one for each of my kids; one a cheerleader, one a basketball player, and one a Cub Scout. I saw that they appreciated what I did – sometimes they didn’t want to make me go out of my way to do things, but I enjoyed it – but I could still tell they missed that “father figure” in their lives.
So, I started working with my ex-husband to help him understand how important it is to be in the children’s lives; not only as married, but especially when we separated. I didn’t want him to take out his frustration against me on the children. He’s still coming around – it’s a work in progress. The kids are 24, 21, and 15 – they were 15, 12, and six when we separated.
I was a certified mediator for the courts in Delaware and New Jersey, and I seen that so many people would come into court unprepared. Same as my ex-husband, when I took him to court for child support, he was dumbfounded, like, “What? Why do you need child support?” So, I took my experience, and what I would want for my children, and created Every Man Counts. I knew it was important to educate the fathers. Through my experience with my ex-husband, I had something to teach the fathers, so other mothers wouldn’t have to go through what I went through. I’ve noticed it’s not just in our community – it’s in every male community, black, white, Asian, Hispanic. Every Man Counts, because when we build better dads, we build better lives.
HHF: What type of things do you do in this organization?
Ajawavi Ajavon: I educate fathers, from the early stages – changing diapers, breast milk feeding – all the way to the adolescent stages – what to talk about with your daughter during her first menstrual cycle, and her first boyfriend. Some of these things I help educate fathers on because I know fathers that are afraid to talk about these necessary subjects.
We hold lots of workshops. Financial literacy, entrepreneurship, activity ideas for the fathers who have their kids in joint custody, healthy food choices, co-parenting. We also have a program for those that need assistance with re-entry, and those needing assistance with court proceedings. It’s called CourtSmart. In addition to our workshops, we have events to promote unity, and it also gives the men in our program a chance to commune and share their experiences. I was actually purchasing trophies for our annual Dads fishing trip. This year is our third.
We invite fathers and sons, but I also invite children who don’t have a father or a mentor, and give these men the opportunity to be a part of their lives. We even did a Father-Daughter Tea Party, where we had fathers and their daughters come and participate in a dressy tea party event. We had girls aged all the way up to 16. It was sold out. So beautiful. We also have an event called the Barbershop Conversations, where we actually go to a barbershop and have open conversation about the issues pertinent to the community.
HHF: How do your clients initially react to a black woman making such a grand effort to help fathers?
Ajawavi Ajavon: At first, they’re like, “OK, she’s a woman. What does she know about fathers?” (Laughs) I stress that I don’t teach fathers how to be fathers. What I do is teach fathers what mothers and children need and want from an absent father. I’m not gonna teach you how to pull your pants up and be a man, no. I’m teaching the basics of being the better dad for the child. And what is special about my program is that the fathers that have been through my program come back and become teachers and presenters in the program – they give back by mentoring other fathers. Financial Literacy, Entrepreneurship, all taught by our own fathers. The only classes I teach are the early stages parenting and the co-parenting classes. The fathers love to encourage each other, “I’m a single father just like you – if I can do it, you can do it.”
HHF: What is the most common problem that you come into contact with in your clientele?
Ajawavi Ajavon: The common issue I have with clients is that they’re not confident enough. They’re not confident enough that they can win their case. They’re not confident of the judicial system. They often have a view that the court is “for the women”. It’s hard but necessary to change this mindset. The core values of my program are integrity, perseverance, accountability, and discipline. I can’t service anyone that isn’t able to adhere to these core values. I don’t allow my clients to play victims. We must be accountable for the portions of this situation which we are at fault. I can’t hold your hand. I can help you, but I can’t do it for you. In our CourtSmart program, we show these guys how to have all paperwork prepared, signed, stamped, dated, and arm them with the confidence backed by our core values, not only are they empowered to do well in court cases, the judicial system often shows respect and favor for their efforts. In fact, the courts refer clients to us because we teach the specifics that the courts want to see – at a cheaper price and more efficiently than many lawyers in these areas.
HHF: This is clearly a needed program across the nation. What is your current jurisdiction? What are your future goals?
Ajawavi Ajavon: We are currently in four states – Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. I could see this everywhere. I want to take my company to every city. I want to get government-funded. Right now, we exist from private donations, along with efforts from my for-profit company, DAB Mediation.
HHF: Thank you so much for this time! We are looking forward to your program spreading like wildfire through the nation!
Ajawavi Ajavon: Thank you so much!