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Grantee Profile: Center for Research on Fathers, Children and Family Well-Being

Shortly after teenaged Ronald Mincy had started his summer job in a New York City Family Court, he realized he had many things in common with the up-against-it men, women and children who constantly revolved through those adjudicating halls.

“While I was being paid to observe child-support hearings, I had the bizarre experience of sitting in a corner one day and reading my own family’s history in a court file,” says Mincy, now a Columbia University professor, 57 years of age. “I was appalled by what it contained—and by a court that was more concerned with the money my father was not paying my single mother than with giving two young parents, who didn’t know what they were doing, any real help.”

A high school student at the time, he resided with his mother and brothers in the infamously crime-plagued and impoverished Fort Apache section of the Bronx. Mincy’s father had left the family, and his visits to young Ronald were rare.

These harsh, muddled beginnings helped place Mincy on a career path addressing the circumstances and issues preventing many black men and their families from thriving. Presently, he is director of the Center for Research on Fathers, Children and Family Well-Being at Columbia University, where he also teaches social policy and social work.

The editor of the book Black Males Left Behind and author of Nurturing Young Black Males, Mincy is co-writing a volume exploring the economic prospects for low-income men in the United States, a disproportionate share of whom are black. “The fortunes of the African American community rest on bringing black men along,” Mincy says. “Because black men have disproportionately been such a drain on this society, getting this society where it needs to be requires—unequivocally—that African-American males make a great deal of progress.”

Mincy is encouraged that policy regarding the fates of black men has gained some of the spotlight. At one time, choosing black manhood as a policy subject was hardly a laudable move in the eyes of many, including the largely non-black, female group of foundation program officers who make grantmaking decisions. “You’ve got to reach deep for them to be understanding and sympathetic to black men,” Mincy says. “It’s hard to make them care.”

Despite Mincy's productivity as an individual, he recognizes the need to institutionalize his work. “What the Open Society Foundations are doing is helping us hire staff, build a team of policy analysts, researchers, community workers—an infrastructure that does not rest on the expertise of any individual scholar.” After more than three decades of this work, Mincy is pleased to see the growing cohort of leaders engaged in these issues.

It is this excitement he conveys to the men he engages with day to day. “There are a lot of boys walking around with a lot of pain about what they don’t know about their fathers,” Mincy says. “For my own father to be absent, for myself and my brothers to grow up in one of the worst ghettos in America with a single mom, was worse than many people can ever imagine. I still have that in my mind. I’m still on a mission.”

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