Dr. Wallace McClaughlin’s father was a struggling minister who experienced racism, poverty and a broken health care system in the Jim Crow South. He died of a stroke at 60. McClaughlin was 13 years old.
McClaughlin saw his widowed mother toil raising six kids by herself. With his physical father gone, McClaughlin gained a stronger relationship with God, his heavenly father, and began to see the importance of fatherhood.
“I didn’t want to continue what I’ve lived,” he said.
McClaughlin, who received his doctorate in family studies from Purdue University with a focus on the African American family, asked himself, “What can I do to give back?”
Then came Fathers and Families.
Founded in 1993 at Wishard Hospital, what started as a father’s resource program turned into a nonprofit organization that gives men — mainly African American — the resources, guidance and support they need to be good parents. The organization provides opportunities for participants to receive their high school equivalency (HSE) diploma, helps people find and maintain employment and created a program focused on parenting and life skills.
While McClaughlin is a pastor at Covenant Community Church, his nonprofit is secular. Participants range from atheists to spiritual and say the organization welcomes everyone without judgment.
James Melton, manager of family services at Fathers and Families, said the work McClaughlin has done is vital for families.
“Continuing a noble legacy of fatherhood” stood as the original motto for the organization, but participants were not able to connect to it. Men in this program had absent fathers, a history of drug use, or experienced abuse and didn’t want that legacy to continue. “Building noble legacies of fatherhood” now stands as the motto and was created to break generational barriers that came from from having an absent father. Fathers and Families has helped over 20,000 fathers, impacting around 50,000 children.
McClaughlin still maintains relationships with people who have gone through the program. During an interview with the Recorder, a participant from nearly 20 years ago called, showing the impactful relationships he’s built throughout his time as president and CEO.
He has received a Jefferson Award, Greater Indianapolis NAACP Humanitarian Award, a Hoosier Heritage lifetime achievement award and other accolades.
“Awards in many ways don’t mean a lot to me because I’m more concerned about the reward that God will give to me and say to me,” McClaughlin said.
He says his greatest achievement was becoming a father. McLaughlin adopted his son at 54 and is now in the shoes of the men he’s mentored for nearly three decades.
McClaughlin is set to retire at the end of the year. He hopes his successor can build relationships with more Black philanthropists to help maintain the program.
“I’ve tried to help the men get a piece of the way home,” he said recalling a phrase his aunt told him growing up in Georgia when she walked him part of the way home. “We’re gonna give you the start, we’re gonna give you the HSE, we’re gonna give you a job, but you still have a long way to go. And thanks be to God we’ve never turned anybody away.”
After he retires, he plans on writing memoirs to his son, preaching at Covenant Community Church and working in the community.
Contact staff writer Terrence Lambert at 317-924-5243. Follow him on Twitter @_TerrenceL_.