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Chicago dad forms organization to help fathers through books

Joseph Williams' organization started after a classroom reading.
/ Source: TODAY

One dad on the South Side of Chicago is trying to make change in his neighborhood, one book at a time.

A decade ago, Joseph Williams spent nine months in Cook County Jail for possession of a stolen vehicle. He said that experience was a "wake up call" that made him realize he wanted his life to be different.

"It made me think a little bit differently," Williams told TODAY's Craig Melvin in a new episode of "Dads Got This." "This is how I ended up going into my children's school to volunteer."

A brief prison sentence a decade ago made Joe Williams realize he wanted something different from life. Adam Kaufman

Williams first started his new life by volunteering in the lunchroom at his daughter's elementary school. One day, his daughter's teacher needed someone to watch her students for a few minutes while she was grading papers, so she called Williams into the classroom to supervise the students.

That, he said, was the beginning of the "Mr. Dad's Father's Club."

"I went in and I picked up a book and I read a book to the classroom," Williams recalled. "And the classroom received the book so much, they wanted me to start coming every week to read books for kids. And with me starting to do that, other fathers started to come in. They were like, 'Hey, what's going on? Can we be a part of this? Can we join?' I (was) like 'Absolutely.'"

Now, more than 150 fathers have joined The Mr. Dad's Father's Club. The organization works to enrich the lives of young people in Chicago's South Side.

A classroom reading turned into an organization involving over 100 dads. Adam Kaufman

"My goal is to get fathers back involved in their children's lives and hopefully, one day, we would like to build a community center, where there's a library and dads can just come in and we can offer more resources," Williams, who himself is a father of six, explained.

For now, the organization focuses heavily on community outreach and monthly reading events — and has even brought a few special guests.

"We brought in Mr. Dreezy Clause," Williams said. "He actually has gray dreads. Our Black Santa Claus came in and he actually blessed the children with mittens and hats and all those great things."

The organization also runs a weekly fatherhood support group for dads in their community. Williams has even been invited to join a community conversation with former President Barack Obama and other community leaders and organizers in Chicago.

The organization's Black Santa Claus appears at some events and gives out necessary winter staples like hats and gloves. Adam Kaufman

Williams himself has been nicknamed the "Black Mr. Rogers" for all of his work.

To further both his goal of enriching the lives of children and giving children of color someone to look up to, Williams recently published his own book, inspired by his daughter.

"It's called 'My Daddy Is...' and my daughter gave me the idea," Williams said. "She just came into my room one night and she was like 'My daddy is me.' I'm like 'My daddy is me, what do you mean by that? That's some deep stuff right there, what are you talking about?'"

The book, available on Kindle, emphasizes the role of fathers and shows Black and brown parents working in a variety of professional fields, something that Williams found lacking in other children's works.

"For Black and brown children, it's good to have someone who looks like us," Williams explained.