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A 20-year idea continues to honor great African-American dads

Snow was on the ground that late winter day 20 years ago when a group of seven men gathered at the home of an area minister.

Snow was on the ground that late winter day 20 years ago when a group of seven men gathered at the home of an area minister.

They were angry that some young black men were engaged in violent behavior - the city would tally 501 homicides in 1989 - and that the only images of black men shown in the media were mug shots.

"Or, they would show guys being led away in handcuffs," said Bilal Qayyum, one of the seven men. "It was a constant bombardment. That was the image of African-American males."

The men had not intended to start an organization, but that first meeting would spawn the Father's Day Rally Committee, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last night at the Hyatt Regency Philadelphia at Penn's Landing by honoring 20 Philadelphia men with Fatherhood Awards.

At that first meeting, Qayyum recalled: "We said, 'That is not right. There are more African-American men doing the right things than those doing wrong.' "

The original seven included a city worker, a drug counselor, a father-and-son pair and three ministers.

The first year, the group staged a rally before Father's Day to condemn negative portrayals of black men, attracting about 250 people. The first Father's Day Rally picnic came a year later, in 1990. This year, the group expects up to 2,000 to show at the picnic Sunday on Belmont Plateau in Fairmount Park.

Stephen Pina, one of the founders, said that the men have done more than host rallies and picnics. They've gone into schools to provide examples of black men working as teachers, doctors, bus drivers, engineers and ministers.

"There needed to be another link for [teenagers] to communicate with men who could show them the potential that's available to them, to give themselves a chance," Pina said.

A few of last night's honorees:

* Douglas Oliver, press secretary for Mayor Nutter, is divorced and shares custody of his 6-year-old son, who spends three days a week at his East Oak Lane home.

Oliver, 34, said that he finds it rewarding when his son is simply watching a cartoon and calls out, "Dad, will you watch it with me?"

"You could tell that my being in the same room was important to him," Oliver said. "It makes me feel good that he cares."

Oliver was once engaged to DeAnn White, one of the young women killed in the Pier 34 collapse in May 2000. He works each May with the DeAnn White Awards Dinner, which provides scholarships in her memory.

* Dave Huddleston, 45, is anchor of the Eyewitness News at 10 on The CW Philly and co-anchor of the Sunday evening edition of CBS 3's Eyewitness News. He and his wife, Tracey, live in Delaware County with their two daughters, ages 14 and 12.

Huddleston was only 6 and living in Tacoma, Wash., when his parents divorced, mainly because his father was on drugs. After his father moved back to Louisiana, Huddleston only saw him twice: "Once, when I was about 10 and again at 31.

"Because I didn't have a father, I wanted to be the best father I could be," he said. Huddleston is registered with the National Marrow Donor Program and has donated marrow to a 17-year-old with leukemia.

* Ronnie Brown, 44, usually works two jobs. But he got fired from one shortly after taking sole custody of four of his five children.

About five years ago, Brown was working at an agency for troubled children when Department of Human Services workers called about the four children. Their mother was on drugs, and there was no water or electricity in her house, Brown said. He left work early to pick up the children, then ages 11 to 15. Two weeks later, he was fired.

"I knew it was my responsibility" to take the children, he said. "My children needed me."

His fifth child, from a different mother, often stayed at Brown's North Philly home.

Things are better for the family now. One daughter graduated from high school this week. And the mother of the four kids is off drugs. She shares custody of the youngest two, ages 16 and 17.*