JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – To raise awareness of infant mortality, the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition is using a unique method this week to reach fathers.
At just more than seven deaths per 1,000 live births, according to the coalition, Northeast Florida's infant mortality rate is higher than the state and the nation at around six deaths.
To bring those numbers down, the coalition and three Jacksonville-area barbershops have partnered for Fatherhood Empty Shoes Memorial Week, which runs through Saturday.
As part of the memorial event, the barbershops have set up an empty baby shoes memorial in recognition of fathers, while educating fathers and fathers-to-be about infant mortality.
"In the barbershop, we typically talk about sports, social and political issues," said Lamont Foy Sr., owner of Platinum Cutts in the Regency area -- one of the barbershops displaying the empty baby shoes.
Foy Senior said he wants to add fatherhood to that conversation. As a father, he told News4Jax on Thursday that he was shocked to hear about the high infant mortality rates in the area.
"It's terrifying and sad," he said. "I wish we didn't have to have this discussion."
The topic hits close to home for Kenneth Scarborough, whose son died prematurely 20 years ago after his wife had pregnancy complications.
"Initially, it was a numb feeling -- didn't quite understand," he said.
Scarborough now has two healthy children and is advocating for more dads to get educated on prenatal care.
"We know by the research that when dads are involved, there's a tremendous improvement in terms of the health and wellness of the child," he said.
According to the coalition, 137 babies died last year in Baker, Clay, Duval, Nassau and St. Johns counties in 2017 -- many due to preventable causes and lack of health services. That's why the barbershops and the coalition have partnered to offer educational materials and a support system for fathers.
Many of those due to preventable causes and lack of health services. Local barbershops like this one are partnering with the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition to offer educational materials and a support system for dads.
"It's about getting fathers more involved in their kids' lives," said Antonio Hall with Fatherhood PRIDE, a program that provides comprehensive services for dads and father figures in Northeast Florida. "Contributing to the energy and development of the child whether it's just with the mother -- helping her, or talking to the belly -- simple things you wouldn't think of."
Hall has two daughters and admits fatherhood was rough, at first.
He joined Fatherhood PRIDE, the program offered by the coalition, to learn how to be a better father and support his family. Through those programs and education, local organizations hope to reach more families and cut down on infant mortality rates.