When Jeremy Kilpatrick walked across the stage at the University of Missouri-Columbia in 2012, he not only had two degrees in hand, but also his 11-month-old daughter, Jayde. Jeremy now works as an Advocate for Children’s Home + Aid’s new initiative, Power of Fathers, working with 100 fathers, particularly men of color, living in greater Englewood and North Lawndale, as they become assets to their children, families and communities. Read on to learn about Jeremy’s own experience as a young father and how it inspired him to empower other fathers.

My Story by Jeremy Kilpatrick

May 12, 2012, was a remarkable day that I will never forget. It was the day I walked across the stage at the University of Missouri-Columbia to receive my Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Bachelor of Arts in Sociology with my eldest daughter in my arms. One may ask, why did I walk across the stage with her? To better answer that question, let me take you back a little and tell you my story.

It was December 2010, and while most of my college classmates went home for winter break, I stayed back at school and decided to work over the break. One day while grocery shopping, I received a text message from my then-girlfriend, Ciara, who is now my wife. When I opened the message, it was a picture of a proof of pregnancy form from Planned Parenthood. My mind began to race and so many thoughts came to mind. I don’t remember exactly what I was thinking; I only recall my friend, who was with me, picking me up from the floor of the cereal aisle. The next few days were a complete blur. My emotions were all over the place and I didn’t know how to feel. All I knew was that my life was about to forever change. As the weeks passed, I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders as I considered what to do.

During that time, there was a lot of division and fighting between Ciara and I. Ciara whole heartedly said she was going to have the baby, while I wanted to weigh all the options. As time went on, I picked up another job, which now meant that I was working three jobs while still a full time student. We began to look for a doctor for prenatal care, but I was still in disbelief and had not made up my mind. During the first meeting with our nurse practitioner Gina Harris, who I’ll never forget, I asked “How did this happen?” I mean, I knew how babies are made, but she was on the pill, so why didn’t that 99% work in our favor. After having a conversation with Gina and as we began to understand each other, she told me that she was a little shocked to see me at the doctor’s appointment. It wasn’t the norm for new dads to be so engaged, especially those that are young and unmarried.

As the months went on, things were extremely hard for us. We were young adults, trying to figure out our own lives, and now we have another life to consider. As a unit, we decided to have the baby and that I was going to finish school. I’d rather struggle to work a few part time jobs and go to school than drop out. I knew it would be better for my child to graduate and find a good job than to work odd jobs without a degree. Since we knew we were about to have a baby, we began to take parenting classes together (one of my favorites was Connecting for Babies), but for me, this was a very lonely time. With each new activity we would do, I was generally the only male there, and people were always surprised to see me so involved. I realized that I was missing that connection with other men going through the same thing. Everywhere we turned, there was another flyer about something for “soon-to-be moms” or “mom and baby.” Yes, it was good for me to be involved in groups with Ciara, and I was able to vent to my male friends; however, there was no one in my life who was going through the same situation for me to be completely transparent with.

On June 14, we went to see Gina. Ciara was 28 weeks and 2 days. Just like any other appointment, the nurse took Ciara’s vitals before we saw Gina. When her blood pressure was taken, it was high, so they decided to give it a few minutes to see if it was simply elevated from the summer heat or the stairs to the doctor’s office. When they took Ciara’s blood pressure again with an automatic machine, it was still high. Gina then took Ciara’s blood pressure manually. In that moment, Gina gave the nurse a head nod and knelt down to Ciara at eye level and her eyes began to fill with tears. Gina explained to us that Ciara’s blood pressure was extremely high, and that Ciara and the baby were at risk of immediate harm. Ciara was diagnosed with severe preeclampsia, and they rushed us to the hospital where the doctors were able to lower Ciara’s blood pressure, but we were informed Ciara would not be leaving the hospital until the baby was born.

During our stay in the hospital, Ciara’s pressure went up and down while the doctors tried to hold out as long as possible before delivery. As if I didn’t already have enough weight on my shoulders, this felt like an entire big load was placed on me — yet again, I felt that I was missing the kind of support I needed as a father. Where were the other men I could talk to? I couldn’t let Ciara know my fears and doubts. Where were the other fathers to tell me it would be okay?

At 7 am on Sunday, June 19, the doctors came in and told us that we would be having an emergency C-section that day. Ciara was just 29 weeks, but if we didn’t have the baby then one or both of them could die. It was Father’s Day, and I got the greatest present ever — my daughter Jayde Carter Kilpatrick. Because Jayde was a preemie, she had to stay in the hospital for two months, but even while she was there, I was a hands-on dad.  I would visit her, sitting for hours around her incubator reading or singing to her; saying scriptures and prayers over her. Once Jayde was finally released, we had a special bond — she was my baby girl, a daddy’s girl. Jayde’s birth gave me an even a greater push to finish school. Even when I was tired, she knew just when to smile or stare at me with her pretty eyes.

That next year was a great, new difficult experience as I learned to be a father and grew into a family man. Without a fathers group to offer support along the way, I started to make my own rules. I took Jayde with me to work, classes, study sessions and even social gatherings. I got a job as the only male teacher at the preschool she was attending. I would do the things for my child the same way that my dad did for me growing up, and I actively interacted with her to let her know she was loved. This became our little system that pushed us to get the degree that I set out to get.

My first thought after turning in the last assignment to complete my double major was, “Jayde is coming across that stage with me.” So that is what I did. Little did I know that there was going to be a greater impact from that choice.

As I walked to the stage with Jayde in my arms, strangers in the audience stopped me with tears in their eyes and congratulated me. Here I am, a Black male with a baby, graduating with two degrees from a prominent predominately white institution.

It was very impactful when I marched across the stage and received a standing ovation from thousands of people in the arena. There was even a professional photographer who thought to capture a few shots of us. Afterward, the photographer posted the photos to social media and the post went viral, inspiring thousands of additional people. While I never imagined my actions would be so powerful and impactful to others, I’m happy my small choice has created a positive ripple effect. After graduation, I made it my mission to continue to inspire other young fathers.

Now a husband and father of two beautiful girls (Jordyn Chanel born 2015), I want to provide the support for men that I didn’t have as a soon-to-be father. I want to be able to advocate for fathers to be seen by mothers-to-be, doctors, family members and child care staff — not pushed to the background. I want to help create the norm that dads are just as important as moms, and our children need both. Working at Children’s Home + Aid as the Advocate for the Power of Fathers program gives me the opportunity to be the difference that other fathers so badly need.

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