In one scene, the camera catches slender, 7-year-old JaBari rushing out from behind the iron door of his grandmother’s brick house and running to the bus.
He’s wearing a white, short-sleeve dress shirt, a red-white-and-blue-striped tie, and no expression.
“Here comes a little boy looking like Obama this morning,” pastor and summer camp bus driver Ricky Floyd says in a voice loud enough to get JaBari to grin. “What’s up, President Obama?”
It’s more than a pleasant moment in “Father Figure,” a documentary about a Frayser summer camp for African-American boys. The film premiered Thursday night at a special showing at Studio on the Square.
Floyd, the camp’s founder and leading father figure, knows JaBari’s back story.
“He’s been kicked out of seven schools. He’s 7 years old. Can you imagine?” said Floyd. “At one school, they caught him on video walking in the door and grabbing some kid and slamming his head into the wall.
“He’s got a lot of anger. He saw his father get killed right before his eyes. So much of the violence in these boys comes from violence. So many of our boys feel angry, frustrated, betrayed by their fathers or lack of fathers. They are angry, but they are thirsty for love and guidance.”
Floyd and a handful of other men spent the summer trying to provide love and guidance — or as the mission statement so poetically puts it, “direction, protection, affection and correction” — to JaBari and 31 other boys. The effort will continue this fall as a mentoring program.
Nearly all of the boys don’t live with their fathers. A half-dozen don’t know their fathers.
“They don’t know how to act like a man because no one is teaching them how to act like a man, how to be a responsible husband and father,” said Floyd, pastor of Pursuit of God Church, husband of Sheila, and father of Brennan, Christina and Ricky Jr.
Floyd believes many, if not most, of the city’s socioeconomic maladies begin with husbandless homes. That’s why he started the Husband Institute.
According to the 2010 Census, of the 167,968 children under age 18 in Memphis, 56,158 were living in a “husband-and-wife family,” but even more — 66,682 — were living in a “family with a female householder, no husband present.” Another 33,888 are living with grandparents, other relatives or nonrelatives.
Viewed another way, more than 100,000 children in Memphis are not living with their fathers.
Floyd thinks that’s a crisis of biblical proportions.
“The husband binds the house together,” said Floyd. “Look at the state of inner-city households — the unemployment, the violence, the addiction issues, lack of supervision and support of children. The man is not there to band the house together. It takes a man to raise a man. We’ve got to start training young men how to be husbands.”
At the Husband Institute summer camp, training began every morning with a vision statement, recited by all: “Preparing young men to be loyal learners, lovers, leaders and laborers that are successful sons, honorable husbands, and generals to the next generation.”
Daily activities included jumping jacks (for exercise), pushups (for rule violations), and karate lessons (a gunless form of self-defense).
The men took the boys to a movie and out to eat. They studied the Bible together. Mostly they talked. It wasn’t always pleasant.
In one scene, Floyd and the other men scold 15-year-old David for nearly being arrested the night before.
A friend, also 15, talked David into going with him in his mother’s car to pick up a 17-year-old girl in Millington at 1 a.m. The friend got pulled over for speeding. David ended up in the back of a police car.
“That’s somewhere I never want to be again,” David sheepishly tells the men.
“Why were you even up at 1 in the morning?” someone asks.
“What if she was trying to lure you out to rob you?” someone else asks.
The men talk to David and the other boys about choices and consequences. They talked about their families and friends and people who are not their friends.
They talked about the temptations and dangers of drugs and gangs and guns. They talked about responsibility and abstinence.
“Every day we picked them up and spent time with them, it was like we were erasing just a little of the pain, the hurt, the disappointment, the doubt that effects their lives,” said Antonio Neal, the church’s worship minister who co-produced the documentary with Floyd.
The boys and men also talked about their dreams and visions.
Each camper created his own vision board with pictures and words cut out of magazines.
In one scene in the movie, 11-year-old Alex explains the elements on his vision board and what they mean.
“Your visioning is something that’s going to happen in your future,” he says. “I want to go to college. Honor roll student. NBA player. Pastor. Three cars. One motorcycle. Football player. Army man. I’m a real husband. I’m a real man. I’m a real college man.”
As Alex goes over all the visions on his board, the camera sees one he fails to mention: Three words that say, “I am saved.”
What: Documentary about The Husband Institute, a summer camp for boys at Pursuit of God Church in Frayser.
Who: Co-produced by Pastor Ricky Floyd and music minister Antonio Neal.
Where: To host a showing, Floyd at 901-353-5772 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.