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Bruce D. Edwards

Year of Graduation: 
1997
Bruce D. Edwards

“You are perpetuating a cycle if you don’t get involved.”

As a child-welfare advocate and court appointed attorney, Bruce Edwards ’97 often sees Maryland’s foster care system become a trapdoor for its neediest youth.

Wanting to improve the odds for the children he serves, Edwards embarked on exhaustive research into parenting. His findings confirmed what he had suspected about the important role fathers play in child development: “Absent fathers have been linked to higher rates of poverty, substance abuse, failure in school, teen pregnancy, violent crime, depression and suicide,” Edwards says.

“An involved father, on the other hand, shapes a child’s identity and moral values and improves their life chances.” Using this knowledge to mend fractured families, Edwards has worked tirelessly for the past decade helping fathers learn how to be fathers. “It’s been an arduous and rewarding journey,” he says. 

Early influences

Born to teenage parents, Edwards experienced firsthand the pain of not having a sustained relationship with his dad while growing up in Florida. During his father’s periodic absences, he found hope in the presence of positive male role models who lent critical guidance.  “Without their support and belief in me,” he says, “I would not be where I am today.”  

Edwards’ earliest mentors were members of Kappa Alpha Psi, an international, predominately African-American fraternity that sponsors community service, social welfare and academic scholarship programs. “They were college-educated, married and the fathers to many of my friends,” Edwards says. The men volunteered their time on Saturdays to form a mentoring group called The Psi-Kats. Edwards joined the program in middle school and participated for six years.  

We talked about a lot of discrepancies among communities of color and how we could go back to our communities and institute change."

During a postgraduate year at Exeter, Edwards was a mentor in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and a member of the Afro-Latino Exonian Society — experiences that laid the groundwork for his community activism. “My involvement with ALES planted a seed,” he recalls.  “We talked about a lot of discrepancies among communities of color and how we could go back to our communities and institute change.  Those discussions motivated me and struck my conscious nerve.” 

Paying it forward

Galvanized to help others the way his father figures helped him, Edwards has poured his energies into mentoring young people and giving men of all ages the tools they need to become better parents.  Through his work reconciling families within Maryland’s foster care system, Edwards learned that many men want to take a more active role in their children’s lives, but lack the confidence and know-how.

“There’s a fear of failure among some men, which is rooted in generations of absentee fatherhood,” he says. “You have to tap into a mindset shift, and help them realize that you are perpetuating a cycle if you don’t get involved.”

With his wife, Rhonda, also a lawyer, Edwards established a legal advocacy firm, Advocates for Justice, Inc., that provides parenting classes, fatherhood engagement sessions and employment services. In his current role as the social services attorney for Caroline County, Maryland, Edwards implemented the Father Empowerment Initiative, based on the research for his 2016 book, The 14 Virtues of the Good Father. A labor of love, his book draws on his comprehensive research and years of experience — plus his own faith beliefs — to provide a formal framework for men hoping to create stronger bonds with their children. 

It is a given to father your own child, but it’s really noble to parent a child who doesn’t have a father."

Edwards’ relationship with his own dad has been healed as a result of his work, and his readers and mentees seem hungry for his message. Some, whose kids are now grown, see mentoring others’ children as a possibility for redemption. “I tell a lot of men, ‘It is a given to father your own child, but it’s really noble to parent a child who doesn’t have a father,’” he says. “They can’t get their child back, but maybe they can be a support for the next generation.”  

–Genny Beckman Moriarty

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the winter 2019 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.