Being a Black Father in the United States of America

I’m in pain. My community — my people — are hurting. And I’m hurting. I find myself calling my 21-year-old son — over and over — just to hear his voice. Just to tell him I love him. I’m struggling to explain what’s happening to my 8-year-old grandson. It’s too hard to look into his big, innocent, brown eyes and tell him the world doesn’t value him the same way it does his White friends. Yet, I have to educate him. I have to because knowing how the world sees him — and how he needs to respond — is what can help keep him safe. Though there are no guarantees. Don’t run, don’t walk slow, don’t walk fast, don’t stand still, don’t wear a hoodie, don’t knock to ask for help, don’t drive at night, don’t have tinted windows, don’t, don’t, don’t….and just maybe you’ll survive.

I’ve been a father to six Black children for more than 35 years. My identity — my role as dad — has shifted over the years, but there are some things that have remained exactly the same.

I had the same conversations about being Black in America with my oldest as I did with my youngest. And I’m finding ways to help my daughter have that conversation with my grandson. It’s the same talk my dad had with me. The same for generations — and it breaks my heart.

When I heard the story of Christian Cooper, I immediately thought of Emmet Till. It’s a 2020 version of what happened back in 1955, when 14-year-old Till was brutally murdered for flirting with a White woman. In 2017, his accuser recanted her story. Thankfully, Christian Cooper is alive today, because we all know how that could have ended.

Black people in America have been subjected to violence for far too long. The recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery — on top of the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on Black communities — have pushed us past a tipping point. As I outlined in a recent article, structural racism is to blame.

Our country — and most of our world — was built on male supremacy and white supremacy. It was intentionally done which means it can be undone. And, if enough of us come together, we can undo it. Our work at A Call To Men seeks to address intersectional oppression at its roots, and we wouldn’t be doing this work — I wouldn’t have dedicated my life to this work — if we didn’t believe that sweeping change was possible. It gives me great hope to see so many young people throughout our nation coming together and demanding immediate action and lasting change.

As I reflect on what it is like to be a Black father in America, I acknowledge all we have to work against. I honor the pain and trauma that we live through every day. And I also look to all of the fathers, father figures, uncles, big brothers, barbers, community dads, coaches, mentors, pastors — all the male-identified folks who play a fatherly role to young people, and I ask you to make your time with young people more intentional than ever. Invest in them. Spend time with them. Show them how valuable they are. Help them pursue their dreams. Empower them to find their voices. Show up for them. They have a vision for the future that is so bright and so beautiful.

At A Call To Men, we are doing our best to elevate their voices as well. In 2019, we established YouthACT!, which centers the voices of young people in New York City to promote healthy masculinity, healthy relationships, and prevent gender-based violence. Through creative outreach, education, and community events they are taking an active role to create a better world for ALL women, girls, men, boys, Trans, LGBQ, and non-binary people. YouthACT! will be hosting a call by and for young people on Youth and Racial Justice on Friday, June 12th, from 4:30-6:00 p.m. ET. Young people can RSVP to join.

This is not a time to be silent. On Wednesday, June 10th, at 1 p.m. ET, we will host a Community Conversation about raising Black children in the midst of racial trauma. I’ll moderate a talk between two exceptional Black parents: my colleague Ted Bunch, chief development officer for A Call To Men and Monika Johnson-Hostler, executive director of the North Carolina Coalition to End Sexual Assault. RSVP to get the Zoom call details.

We are not going to stop working toward justice, equality, and equity because things are overwhelming and hard. That’s not the legacy of my people or this organization. We are committed to the Black community. We are committed to Black fathers and father figures. We are committed to young people. We are committed to our allies. And we can all stand together — committed to change.