Be The Difference 2023 International Conference and the Fathers and Families Coalition
When passionate social service warriors and professional leaders combine forces with like-minded thinkers from all over the globe, beautiful things happen. I recently learned more about a wonderful event happening this spring in Los Angeles. The Fathers and Families Coalition is having its 24th annual Be The Difference 2023 International Conference at the Hilton Los Angeles Airport Hotel on April 24th – 27th. Every day has an abundance of exceptional workshop sessions, featured speakers, and networking events. Be The Difference 2023 Conference will host two unique agendas for in-person attendees and a reduced virtual schedule.
I was blessed to speak with President and Chief Executive Officer Dr. James C. Rodriguez, MSW, who shared that the organization was founded in 1996 in Coolidge, Arizona, before its transition years later to SoCal. As Rodriguez described his journey, within minutes, I realized I was speaking to a man of integrity and passion. A father of three, a veteran, a college-educated student of life, and the product of impactful mentors, Rodriguez's energy inspired and intrigued me; I had to know more.
When reflecting on the goals of the Fathers and Families, Coalition Rodriguez said, “Our mission is to find a cause bigger than ourselves.” He added the team is on a journey of “strengthening families,” saying, “we have to increase family and child protective factors with a focus on the impact of fathers by providing professional development for those who work with parents and caregivers so that they have the skills, knowledge, and access to resources they need to support their child's development.”
Rodriguez also stated, the goal of the conference is to remind community members alike that sometimes father figures come in different forms highlighting the importance of “answering the call” as mentors. “I had a couple of great mentors, one named Leonard G. Knight (deceased) who was president of 100 Black Men of Phoenix and City Manager; I remember he spanked me when I told him I was dropping out of the Ph.D. program; I was 30 years old at the time,” laughed Rodriguez. He also credits Dr. Sherry P Ulmer, CEO of Pinal and Gila Community Child Services, as one of his main influences. Ulmer taught him how to become a grant writer bringing in millions in funding to help catapult their mission of being the difference.
Today Rodriguez leads the charge to make a difference in our communities, affirming, “Let’s not make a difference; let’s be the difference cause being the difference is continuous. We will never be stagnant!” From passionate leadership comes a robust framework, and the Be The Difference conference has an abundance of workshops and keynote speakers on deck for the week.
Grammy-nominated National Poetry Slam Champion Spoken Word Poet, Queen Sheba will be performing; Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass is scheduled to attend the opening ceremony; Congressman Jimmy Gomez, who established the Congressional Dads Conference, will be in attendance; the closing remarks are by the executive director of the John Wooden Leadership Institute from UCLA, and Suite Life SoCal royalty herself, Publisher Sarah Harris will be honored with one of several awards that will be given to some of our communities unsung heroes working behind the curtain. A well-deserved recipient will receive the Honorable Stanley Seiderman National Father of the Year Award at the Red Tie, Red Dress Gala, a night highlight. Here is a list of the awards presented:
- President's Service Honoree
- Fathers of The Year Honorees
- Affiliate of The Year Honoree
- Couples of Excellence Honorees
- National Leaders of The Year Honorees
From empowerment to education to elegance, the Be The Difference 2023 International Conference sounds like the place to be this spring. Over 71 workshops cover a powerful array of topics ranging from strengthening the core of family units, mental health, sexual exploitation, empowering parents, and human trafficking, adding the importance of including Fathers to assist in the fight while developing strategies to address the issue that haunts families at an alarming rate.
Furthermore, the conference ensures that more people answer the call to be mentors and embrace being fathers and mothers, stepfathers and mothers, uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters, etc.! “Each of us has a calling,” said Rodriguez. “The world needs people to have passion; we need people to have purpose. That’s what we want people to take away from this year’s conference.”
Attendees will be coming from 13 countries to attend this year's “Be The Difference 2023 International Conference” by the Fathers and Families Coalition. Hearing the excitement in Rodriguez's voice made me look into attendance as well. To be surrounded by those who inspire and uplift is the ultimate wealth. Now that’s a Suite Life!