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Father & son work together on “Mentoring Manhood”

Collaboration was a key theme in our 2020 annual report—the myriad of people, organizations, and institutions who come together to care for children. At the center of that support system is the relationship between child and parent.

As I pondered how to tell this story, a father-son duo instantly came to my mind: John Baker III & IV.

John Baker IV (left) & John Baker III (right)

John IV had designed The Skillman Foundation’s 2020 Thanksgiving Parade Float. An eighth-grader at Bates Academy in Detroit, John IV made his fourth and final submission that year to the annual Skillman Foundation Float Contest, open to all Detroit students in grades 4-8. While he had made it to the finalist round and was awarded an honorable mention during a previous year, in 2020, he made it to the top. His persistence paid off.

John IV’s determination was fueled by his father, a Detroit Community Public School art teacher for 29 years and counting. His dad didn’t guide his hand across the paper; he didn’t have to. John IV put forth his own unique talent and vision while dad encouraged him from the sidelines.  

John IV’s drawing was brought to life by Parade Company artists and appeared in America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. When he came out on Thanksgiving morning to ride on his float, his father was beaming.  John III spoke about how proud he was of his son—as an artist, a student, an athlete, and a young man.

His father deserves some credit from John’s sky-rocking development—including his stature that extends beyond 6 feet in height. John III is a father, mentor, teacher, and coach to his son—and to other children.

Read more about the Bakers in their own words:

“Mentoring Manhood”

This artwork is entitled “Mentoring Manhood.” How do you define manhood; What makes a good man?

John IV: What makes you a good man is that you have to follow through on your promises. Being a good man in your community and being a good husband and father.

John III: My definition of manhood is doing traditionally manly things utilizing intelligence, strength, and empathy in a man’s daily walk to life. A good/great man helps others in his own household, then like a concentric circle, spreads out and helps the community and surrounding communities. A good/great man oftentimes “falls on the sword” without hesitation. What can I do to better my family’s current and future situation? How can I better help/serve my community, oftentimes with no reward, recognition, or accolades? You just DO.

John Sr., as the father of a teenager and as a teacher of 29 years, you’re an experienced mentor. Why is mentoring youth important to you?

John III: Because it’s intrinsic. I have witnessed firsthand watching my father… (I) raised a second-generation Scholarship Division 1 student-athlete. It is a mantle I wear with great pride.

Having both parents as teachers with master’s degrees and over 61 years in the Detroit Public School System (be) omnipresent active role models in my house every day, I took and learned from my parents. Then, with the help of my wife and our families, have taken the mentoring and guidance “blueprint” to the next level on our family tree. 

As championship coach on the elementary and middle school level, I use mentoring and teaching. My father said, “Baker, if you can teach, you can coach.” And with that advice, as a Detroit Public School teacher, I am proud to say that I have mentored and taught entrepreneurs, professional athletes, doctors, and students of numerous other professional occupations. Not trying to coin a corny cliché but: children are our future. Facts.

Every day that I teach, I let them see a man—not because of height or stature, but walking upright, interacting with passion, fairness, strength, discipline, and love.

John Jr, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your father?

John IV: The biggest lesson I’ve learned from my father is to treat everyone with respect. And remember people’s names.

John Sr, all relationships are two-way streets. That said, what has mentoring taught you?

John III: Mentoring has taught me that students use me as a mirror to see beyond what they can be. And once you get the students to trust you, and they realize you are in their corner—now their dream can begin, and they can start to believe and ultimately achieve.

Tell me about the creation of “mentoring manhood.” Was it a collaboration between you two?

John III: The younger Baker’s main job was to remain patient with a good attitude as Baker III took the ideal photo! Baker IV also was responsible for the black and white gesso ground application, smoothing reduction, and final critiques.

What’s next for the Bakers?

John III: Last year, (John IV was) named The Skillman Foundation’s Thanksgiving Day Float Design

Contest Winner as a Bates Academy student. This current high school four-sport freshman is now thoroughly immersed in the rigorous chemical biology curriculum at Cass Technical High School.

As for me, I’ve been teaching since 1993, but every year is new—especially during the pandemic. Its like riding a bicycle with square wheels. I’m reconnecting with students I haven’t seen for over a year and a half. And now, I’m only seeing half of their faces. It’s a challenge, but I’m here to care for the kids. As far as my art career, I am in the process of creating a website to display over five dozen paintings I’ve created over the last decade. As I look at the collection, I see it reflecting my consciousness now, as a husband, father, brother, and teacher—and in the context of today, when we see injustices, even murder, of Black youth.

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