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Fathers Making Progress through co-parenting skills

Terron Edwards, Danita Graham and Ajamou Butler at Father's Making Progress gala
Victor Ojo
/
WUWM
Terron Edwards, Danita Graham and Ajamou Butler at the Father's Making Progress gala.

When Terron Edwards started working with noncustodial fathers over 20 years ago, a gala like this was never the goal.

Back then he was working in anti-poverty policy, helping men get their lives together, offering all sorts of training during a 12-week program. He says he found his niche when he started a dad’s group to improve parenting skills.

“One thing I quickly noticed was that the guys who were coming to the group were doing better than the guys that weren't,” Edwards says. “I didn't understand the science behind it at the time, but it was something that I was able to help cultivate and build.”

The men in the group found a healing space. A space to be vulnerable and learn together. But when the program came to an end, those men lost that space. That was until Edwards started his next project, Father’s Making Progress (FMP), an organization that will celebrate 20 years helping, and honoring, Milwaukee dad’s next year.

Edwards says that it’s important to see men who are stepping up and showing up for their own. He knows because it’s something that he didn’t have.

“When I was a kid, before I was 10years old, my dad was [gone] and it put me in a bad space,” says Edwards. “I was just totally disconnected from purpose.”

That was until he had his son when he was 16 years old. He says becoming a dad changed and saved his life. That’s the roots of FMP — to be somebody for somebody.

At the second annual FMP gala, there were delicious full plates of catered food, a raffle with prizes, a silent auction and six awards to be handed out. They included rookie dad of the year, community and come back out of the year, and a brand new category — co-parents of the year.

“We were young, dumb, … we didn’t know what we were doing,” says this year's winner, Ajamou Butler. “[Now] we’re friends, we do business together, we raise babies together, we share similar values and belief systems and that’s what makes it easy for us.

A man holding two awards
Victor Ojo
FMP's 2024 co-parent of the year — Ajamou Butler.

Even though Butler and fellow award-winner Tia Love DeBenedetto aren’t together anymore, he says that he had a blueprint for how to make co-parenting work: his parents.

“We came together, we made this life, we want this life to have the best possible life,” Butler says. “We want this life to prosper, to be peaceful, to be happy, to live. And so we're going to play our roles to nurture that, to foster that.”

FMP is offering a co-parenting pilot workshop for co-parents looking to learn more and grow together. Throughout the program, parents will work separately, and then together, to create a co-parenting action plan that will be recognized by the courts.

Danita Graham is a facilitator, therapist and co-parent herself. She’ll also be instructing the pilot program. She’s passionate about the class because of her experience and troubles co-parenting.

“It was messy, because I was frustrated, I was overwhelmed and I was angry,” Graham says. “That means I'm communicating negatively and he can hear that I'm not speaking to him in a way that I respect like, 'Let's work on this together.'”

Graham says even if you can’t get to the pilot project this time, there’s practical advice to take away for anyone looking to improve their relationship with their co-parent.

“Start with taking inventory within myself ... whether that's journaling, whether that's I'm listening to something, just to clarify how I'm feeling or what I'm thinking, 'What do I disapprove of? What is really the problem in this relationship?,'" Graham says. “And remember that you're talking to someone you love, you once loved, and that is really the foundation, seeing the love.”

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Jimmy is a WUWM producer for Lake Effect.
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