Franiqua, who her mother said was very shy before joining Camp Diva, admits she surprised herself by speaking up about something she used to never talk about. She was also surprised that Angela Patton understood. In fact, inspired by Franiqua, the “Dance of Their Own” event at the jail was created. Patton said since its beginning, she has taken girls ages five through 17 to the jail for the memorable evening.
The fathers who participate are serving sentences for non-violent crimes like drug possession. The sheriff usually greets the girls and escorts them in, handing them off to their dads. This year the event was held on June 8. Patton said Gov. Bob McDonnell attended, leading the girls in and delivering a “Father’s Day message that was extremely supportive, not judgmental, and talked about giving second chances, co-parenting and re-entry.
“Dressed in suits, the attitudes of these grown men change,” said Patton. “Then you can hear the girls oooing when they come in and see their fathers, especially those who may have never seen them in anything other than pants hanging below their waists.
“A radio personality announces each father and daughter. The daughter is on the father’s arm and he pulls out her chair and makes sure she takes her seat.”
During the night, there are activities aimed at getting father and daughter to talk to one another and to build memories. Each father and daughter receives a journal. The daughter writes on the first page of the father’s book and he writes on the first page of hers. Each gives a video message to the other also and the messages are incorporated in a personalized CD given to each girl and father later as a memento.
“Leaving is always very emotional, but they leave with a memory and a sense of hope,” Patton said. “We always end in a circle after a Soul Train line.”
Camp Diva keeps in touch with both father and daughter. While the two are at their date at the jail, the organization also holds a special spa event for the mothers, introducing them to other support programs Camp Diva offers. All of the efforts are geared at building a healthy relationship between the mother and father, one that sustains and nurtures their daughter.
Patton is meeting with 20 wardens soon who are interested in possibly having Camp Diva put on similar events at their facilities. It’s a model she hopes will be used by grass roots organizations nationwide.
Patton knows the events are making a difference.
“I ran into a mother visiting her husband at the jail. “Inside Edition” did a story on our father-daughter dance at the jail and this woman’s daughter was in it—maybe five seconds. The woman told me they taped it and she said, ‘My daughter watches it every day before school–and when she gets home.’ It was only five seconds, but it gives her hope.”
Unfortunately, the inspiration for “Dance of Their Own,” Franiqua Davis, has not been able to dance with her father, who is in a prison hours away from Richmond. He has been incarcerated for 12 years, since she was a toddler, but he is scheduled to come home this November and Franiqua says the two of them are already looking forward to the community “Date with Dad Dinner and Dance to be held March 16, 2014.
“She’s never been to one of the dances, but she has talked to the girls all about it,” said Patton.” She saved her dance for her dad. I told her that’s some kind of love.”
Meanwhile, Franiqua, said she is “really, really excited” about her father coming home. And she is happy she spoke up when questioned by Patton about the community dance.
“It’s okay to speak up if you don’t like something,” said the tenth grader who wants to be a doctor. “You can speak your mind in a positive way and things can change.”
(Photo: Lisa Hall)