By Kenneth Vaughan, PhD
More than ever, it’s important for Black fathers to emphasize their active role in cultivating our communities, partnering with each other to teach our kids about our culture, becoming mentors, and creating a system to pave a new way forward. Taking on this task is not easy, but it is worth it.
Black dads are often marginalized in the media and even within our communities. The media often suggests that Black dads are either incarcerated or live dangerous lives. Because many homes have lacked Black fathers, some have adopted the belief that kids don’t need dads, and many young people have missed out on the power of having a father in their lives.
Despite our many social, political, economic challenges, Black dads must stand in to close the gaps in our communities. Here’s what I want other black dads to know:
- Your presence is critical as we move forward. The presence of strong, resilient, resourceful Black men in communities can help our women and children feel safe. It is your presence that forces other young men to stand at attention as they watch your mannerisms and practices. What society does not tell you is that even our tallest young men still want to feel protected and connected to a strong, older Black man. Because of the lack of positive Black male role models in some communities, our girls are also seeking father figures to bond with.
- Your vision for our community is also critical. Many of our kids are influenced by the negative portrayal of our children’s future by media outlets, educational statistics, and the factors that contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline. Moms may express hope for the future, but too often, Black men who are in position to be a voice for communities have remained silent about their hopes for our children. Your vision can provide guidance as we pave a better way forward. We need you to dream new dreams and see new possibilities for our future, and we need you to communicate this new vision of hope and success to our young people.
- Your voice matters. The male lion’s roar can be heard for over five miles. His roar communicates both protection and presence to his pride and his adversaries. Much like the lion, Black fathers’ voices provide hope and guidance for our community. Far too often our voices go unheard because we are taught to be “seen and not heard.” We are taught not to raise our voices because of the fear associated with the “loud large Black man.” As a result, we have allowed other voices to tell us who we are and the limitations we must accept in order to survive. We have remained silent because of fear of losing our jobs, because of the way many Black leaders have been silenced or killed because they opposed systemic oppression, and the fear of the potential negative repercussions our families may face because of our activism. The result is that many of our communities continue to suffer in silence, and we often only hear the cries of Black mothers mourning the horrid conditions our children face.
- Your healing is critical. As Black fathers, we often forget to address our past and present hurts. We have been taught that showing weakness is not manly. But we have to make time to heal if we want to live within our families permanently. I speak to countless men who may look very strong but are struggling with anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and general overwhelm. Many of us are drowning and refuse to ask for help. One of the ways you can heal is by practicing self-care: you might meditate, take daily walks, work out, write down your thoughts, or connect with another brother about what you’re going through.
- You are enough. I struggle with how hard it is to be a Black father in today’s harsh climate, too. This responsibility is not for the faint of heart. Each morning I run in the pitch black, trying to establish a new day and let go of past and present hurts. Sometimes, I run with tears in my eyes wondering if I have enough to put on the armor and go fight the good fight. As I am running the hills, I am reminded of my three-year-old daughter, my eight-year-old son, and my 20-year-old daughter in college. I think of the world I want them to inherit, and I push on despite being tired. We are the heroes that we have been waiting on. I know it’s rough, but you are the superhero in the eyes of the kids who are looking for someone to come in and be the light of hope.
I want to say thank you to the Black dads who are standing in the gaps for our kids. Our kids need heroes that look like them and can help make things better in their communities. Black mothers need to know that they are not facing this battle by themselves. Black dads, be the change you want to see.