10/03/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Father's Day: a Million Fathers to March on the First Day of School

When you stop to look at the array of organizations trying to address the crushing problem of poor children being left behind in U.S. schools - there are the wonk strategists, the conscientious objectors - and then there are those out there with kids and parents, just getting stuff done, like Chicago's Black Star Project.

Sure in their hometown they've never grabbed splashy headlines like the Rev. and State Senator James Meeks, who plans to boycott the first day of school, busing kids to Winnetka for a symbolic registration attempt, then planting kids in lobbies of Loop businesses to bring attention to the dire inequities in how kids get schooled in this state.

They've never gotten the sort of "play" that Cheryle R. Jackson and the Chicago Urban League got last week when they announced a lawsuit against the State of Illinois and Illinois State Board of Education calling for the state's current school funding design be declared unconstitutional and in violation of the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003. But it doesn't matter to the Black Star Project staff; under the direction of its fearless leader Phillip Jackson, they don't think about headlines. They're just out there doing.

"We went to Cook Country jail today, marched around the jail chanting 'Educate or Die!' and spoke to 1,000 men in division four, asking them to write letters to their family to have them take their children to school next Tuesday," Phillip told me last week. "Last week we took a letter to Tom Dart and asked him to provide paper, envelopes, and stamps and he did, saying 'Yes! That's exactly what we're looking for!' I told those men that the one thing that should never be taken away from a man is the right to be a good father."

That was just one of about a million things BSP has been doing leading up to Tuesday's first day of school, and only a few of them have happened here in Chicago. You see the MFM has been around awhile. "The media here pretty much ignored the Million Father March for 5 years," Phillip said. "The MFM is all over the country; in New York, it's huge. We're in 475 cities; including Chicago we're expecting 600,000 fathers across the country to take their kids to school - and those are just the cities who are registered with us."

Phillip says he can't really estimate how many will be living the spirit of the March and showing their kids that their education takes precedence over everything else by escorting them to school on the first day. But, he says, "Every day I hear about cities we have no connection to doing Million Father March, and that's what we want. We don't control the MFM anymore, it's something that every community controls."

And when he says every community, he means EVERY community, even in towns where Da Mayor and the Guv haven't declared September 2, "Million Father March Day".

"We're not leaving anybody behind; I had a white man from Traverse City, Michigan, call me and ask, 'Can white people participate in the Million Father March?' I said yes ... if you have children.' He went out and recruited 25 other small cities in central Michigan, where the total minority population is less than 2 percent."

And Phillip's hoping for a bump here as well. Despite being overlooked for years, because parent mentoring, student tutoring and good old-fashioned hard work aren't sexy, his phones have been ringing these days as a result of pleasant, unintended consequences.

"The Rev. Meeks brought up this boycott, and now people are giving me the opportunity to talk about MFM and things I think we need to do to educate poor black, poor Latino, poor rural white children," he said. "But we are going to depart with him on the first day. In fact we're going door-to-door in low attendance communities to make sure the kids come to school - we even have teachers out doing it!"

"See we're doing it all; we we're going to keep working for the money to equalize educational opportunities and we're going to keep talking about fathers and mothers becoming involved in children's educations, how that leads to a better education, higher test scores, higher graduation rates, less drop outs, less drugs, less school suspensions and less pregnancies. That's what we should be doing," Phillip said. "This is not, ''s Sept 2nd, the kids are back.' No, we'll keep working."