READING, PA- To observe Black History Month, the Central Pennsylvania African American Museum of Reading is honoring six local residents with its 2017 Making a Difference awards on Feb. 25 at the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel, 701 Penn St. This is the third of our stories on each honoree.

He had to choose between basketball and fatherhood. For Stephan Fains, it was no choice at all: At 18, he had become a father. He had to quit his high school basketball team.

It was one of the toughest days of his life.

He loved basketball. Played for Gov. Mifflin High School, and on amateur teams. As the younger brother of Donyell Marshall, a former Reading High School basketball star who made it to the NBA, Fains was expected by coaches and friends to excel, to make the sport his life. Mostly, he expected it of himself.

Now he had to give it up. His coach insisted he could remain on the team. But though his mother took his son and his baby’s mother into her home, she would not assume the role of the child’s father, too. “My mom’s thing was, ‘Look, the job still must be done,'” Fains recalled.

So he quit basketball, and chose fatherhood. He often fell asleep during the first period of the school day, exhausted from staying awake with his baby the previous night. And he faced the fear, of failing, of the unknown. His own father was absent from his childhood, adding to his insecurity: “I didn’t have a father to say, ‘You can do it,'” he explained.

Now, married with five children, Fains is encouraging other men to be good fathers. He’s the coordinator of a Berks Community Action Program effort called Promoting Responsible Fatherhood, coaxing men to embrace fatherhood, not fear it.

Fains, 37, of Sinking Spring, provides everything: advice, a sympathetic ear, even a job interview at a local employer, clothes to wear and a ride to the interview. What he sees is fear, like the day he brought a doll into a session attended by new fathers to show them how to change a diaper: “I could see the fear in their eyes,” he said, chuckling.

“We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be this perfect thing,” Fains said. “You can try to be a good parent, but all you can do is try. You’re going to mess up, and it’s going to be fine. I tell them, ‘Look, just be there for your child. Start with that.'”

Fains’ coaching helped Jermell Mitchell, who became a father again – he already had grown children – at the age of 41. He was out of work and homeless, crashing at the home of friends and the mother of his newborn child, and having another child overwhelmed him with fear.

“It made me push the panic button,” said Mitchell, now 43, of Reading. “I was more into surviving the moment. I had a kid on the way and I had no way of supporting her.”

Fains helped him find a job at the desk of a local hotel, and brought him things he would need for his child, stuffed animals, building blocks, even sheets and blankets. Now Mitchell, an assistant director at the Olivet Boys & Girls Club, has his own apartment, where he built a ball pit for his 2-year-old daughter, Aaliyah, from PCP pipe he bought at Home Depot and bags of plastic balls he ordered from

“You know he’s not just reading off a book, he’s lived it,” Mitchell said. “He’s sharing his experience, and I respect that. He’s genuine, from the heart, and he goes above and beyond. There’s no limit to what he’ll do for you.”

Years after he chose fatherhood, Fains was struck by the weight of his decision while watching his oldest child, now 18, play basketball on his school’s team. During a game, his son looked at Fains and his wife, sitting in the stands, and the moment made the importance of his choice impeccably clear.

“Just being there is the most important thing in the world,” Fains said. “Not money, just letting your kid see your face is more important than anything.”

He is determined to spread his message to new fathers, for the sake of their children.

“We’ve got to be the change we want to see,” Fains said.

Courtesy of: