A study using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health revealed that if the number of fathers is low in a neighborhood, there is an increased risk of teen violence. The fourth Fatherhood Initiative Conference, held in Rochester, aims to reduce this risk by encouraging young men to be the mentors they need.

The Fatherhood Initiative Conference is a collaboration of Youth for Christ, Link Youth Mentorship and other area Christian ministries and churches aimed at encouraging young men to be mentors for youth in need of encouragement and to help show those without a father figure how to become one.

“A healthy father, a secure father [is] one who understands his purpose and legacy,” said Reggie Cox, the executive director for Fatherhood Connection. “He seeks to be intentional about creating that shine for others. And that’s what this conference is really all about.”

Research from the Office of Justice shows that the absence of fathers compromises a community’s ability to resist violence, and the impact can be seen in communities across the country and New York state.

“One out of four homes have a father in the city of Rochester and its an alarming statistic that we have come in number one in the country,“ said Pastor Warren Meeks Jr., ministry coordinator for Link Mentorship. “The increase in murder rates, the increase in crime, it all is because there is no father in the home.”

This is why individuals like Meeks take the opportunity to share their story and help others learn. 

"I grew up in a fatherless home and the outcomes of growing up in a fatherless home is drastic,” Meeks said. “It is what we’re seeing today in the communities today and how they’re being affected and with these types of outcomes we can’t afford to continue this way so we need mentors.”

And that’s exactly what the conference aims to do -- create more mentors like Darius Walker, who attended the first Fatherhood Initiative conference several years ago.

“And I was like why am I here, I’m like the youngest, no kids, I’m not married, none of that stuff,” said Walker.

But he says it changed his outlook completely.

“It really just encouraged me to stay on course but to also look at the bright side of what came to be as opposed to just the struggle,” Walker said

“[For] about nine years, I went with my father going back and forth about all this stuff,” he said. “But to see my father where he is now, accepting Jesus in his life, taking God seriously, loving his family better [and] learning how to be that father that he never had.”

And now he is passing his knowledge on.

“To step out and to show others, the youth, that guns ain’t everything [and] gangs ain’t everything,” Walker said. “Grace is everything. And the peace they long for. So that’s what the fatherhood initiative brings to the table.”