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5 Black Fathers On What Fatherhood Means To Them

Love & Relationships

My favorite memory of my father is him teaching me how to ride a bike.


I upgraded from my little red tricycle and was on my first big girl bicycle with training wheels on deck. He had taken them off that morning, and as we started off in the dirt driveway of our home in South Carolina, he held me up. His hand was securely fastened on the back of my seat as I pedaled. There, he kept me safe, preventing me from falling. He promised he wouldn't let go until I was ready. Because of how safe he made me feel, I felt brave enough to conquer the world. He gave me a running start and I did the rest, not even realizing he let go of me until I was halfway down the driveway, pedaling away without training wheels and without him.

That memory of my father, Lee, is a favorite of mine because it serves as a beautiful reminder of the man who helped create me, but also the man who raised me. How he'd always be sure to make sure that if I fell (which I would countless times), that he'd be there to catch me. As a child of divorce, not a lot of us get to say that our fathers are an active part of our lives. From childhood to adulthood, he has been there, an ever-constant figure, a father, a confidant and most importantly, a friend. To me, he is the epitome of black love and laid the foundation of the love I have for myself and the love I'd come to expect from anyone else.

As a product of a dope black father, it was important to me to highlight the ones out there doing the work and playing an active role in planting the seeds of their legacy. Here are 5 black fathers on fatherhood and the lessons that made them.

Deano

Deano pictured with his wife Chadeia and their daughter

Courtesy of Deano/@cutzbydb

Age: 29

Location: Wilmington, Delaware

Proud father of: a one-year-old daughter

What fatherhood means to him:

"It's not who taught me how to be a father as much as what taught me how to be a father - my experience not having a father is what showed me what kind of father I wanted to be. My experience being a father is still in its early stages but one of the most profound moments that exemplified fatherhood for me was the time my daughter wouldn't go to sleep and I stayed up with her until she fell asleep knowing I had to go to work early that morning; it was a sacrifice that I had to make. That's what being a father is - making sacrifices for the benefit of our children.

"I remember the day my daughter was born like it was yesterday - 11:56 AM. I saw her hair as she was coming out, that's when it became real for me and once I held her, I was instantly in love. Words could not express the feeling. It was euphoric.

"'Father' means to always protect, sacrifice for and love your child as if they are your greatest responsibility, because they are. I hope that my children can learn to always count on and trust in me so that we have a very strong bond. This year will only be my second Father's Day. The first happened just a week after my daughter was born."

Follow Deano on Instagram.

Jon

Jon pictured with his son and his mom who was his "dad"

Courtesy of Jon

Age: 35

Location: Quebec, Canada

Proud father of three kids: a soon-to-be 17-year-old son, and two girls that will be 4 and 2 in July

What fatherhood means to him:

"My mom raised me and my brother by herself so I would have to say that she is the one who taught me how to be the man and the father I am today.

"I don't think as a child I felt that something was missing from my life because my father was not around, but I strongly believe that it drives how I am as a father today. Even if I'm working a lot and don't get the chance to be around my children as much as I would like to, I make sure to be there for them for every important moment of their life. Every free minute I have, I spend it with them. The day I became a father, I was so proud. I felt joy and excitement but I don't think that at that moment I realized what that really meant.

"My kids are the only human beings who taught me what pure love was. What I want for my children to learn with me, is to never give up. I want them to work hard to get where they want to be and to work harder when they fall, even if it is painful. I want them to believe like me that nothing is impossible even when everyone tells you so. If my kids associate the word "dad" with trust, protection, laughs and most importantly love, I will be an accomplished father."

Jamaal

Jamaal pictured above with his sons

Courtesy of Jamaal

Age: 35

Location: Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina

Proud father of: three sons, an 11-year-old, a two-and-a-half-year-old, and a one-year-old

What fatherhood means to him:

"Growing up without a father figure, I've had several male role models in my life who played a hand in my development as a man and a father. I ran track most of my life, so many of them were my high school and club coaches. But my mother was the biggest influence in my life. She worked hard to provide for my brother and me, and to instill certain values in us. I carry that desire and responsibility to provide - in a variety of ways - into my role as a father.

"My father's absence actually pushes me to be a great father to my boys. I think that's the case with many men who grew up without a father. We want to give our children something we never had.

"There's a learning curve since I didn't have that example, but the desire to be great is what guides me. It's like playing a role without a script, but I'm getting better at improvising. There's nothing to prepare you to be a father. With my first son, I was about to graduate from college and pursue a professional track career. I had the big responsibility of taking care of a life outside of my own and essentially becoming a compass for him. And I didn't want to let him down.

"Fathers wear many different hats, but right now being a father to me means being a leader, provider and a wielder of my family's legacy. Building future men, husbands and fathers. I want my sons to be unapologetically themselves, regardless of how society labels them, and to have fun doing it."

Follow Jamaal on Instagram.

Aijalon

Aijalon pictured with his sons

Courtesy of @phourthelook

Age: 35

Location: Detroit, Michigan

Proud father of: a 5-year-old son, a 3-year-old son, and a deceased son

What fatherhood means to him:

"Although my father lived in a different state than I did, he still played a role in my life. I was fortunate enough to be able to graft influences from other great men as well. I remember when I was little, although my mom and dad weren't together, my dad would still come by and he would read the Bible to my brother and I. We may not have understood it all at that time, but he was not only laying the foundation for what I believe and teach my children today, but also setting an example for me unconsciously, by trying to be there for us as a father.

"I remember the day I became a dad. It felt scary. In that moment, I became responsible for something so fragile. To me, 'Father' means 'Starter' because you are the beginning and the continuation of everything. A house or child can be strong because of you or weakened and broken because of your absence.

"Children don't really learn by rules as much as they learn from seeing what you do. Lead by example. I hope my children learn to be peaceful, stable, and God-fearing men."

Follow Aijalon on Instagram.

John

John pictured above with his family

Courtesy of John Moran

Age: 51

Location: Decatur, Georgia

Proud father of: five children -- three boys: John (24) Jordan (22) Juwon (22) and two girls: Taylor (18) and Casey (16)

What fatherhood means to him:

"I've had many men in my life who contributed to my development as a father. My father had some particular issues so we didn't have the best relationship but when I was young I specifically said to myself that I would NOT act like my dad did. Having said that, I have to say by 'process of elimination', my father was the biggest influence. When I was about 10 or 11, and before our relationship soured, my father would take me to the park across the street from where we lived. Every weekend or so we would play ball, fly a kite or watch a softball game. I see the correlation between that and the fact most summers with my boys were spent in the backyard or at the park playing ball.

"My wife was busy working and in school and it was before the girls were born so it was just us running around and playing. Those moments with my dad and with my sons exemplify fatherhood to me.

"The day I first became a dad was both the scariest and proudest moment of my life. My wife was in labor and we were all huddled in the delivery room. The doctor informed us that the umbilical cord had wrapped itself around my son's neck. I was handed scrubs and told they would have to perform a c-section. I went into the restroom and cried like a baby (pun intended) out of fear for my wife and son and not knowing what to do and feeling completely helpless. By the time I had gotten myself together and put the scrubs on, I walked out and the doctor gleefully told me the situation had corrected itself (he explained with all kinds of technical terms but I wasn't listening) and my firstborn son come into this world with no medical issues.

"I went from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs in less than two hours. Looking back, I now fully understand this would be a microcosm of married and family life...

"The word 'father' is so damn complicated. All at once you have to be a rock, protector, nurturer, CEO, engineer, mechanic, foreman, negotiator, lover, listener, cook...and if you're lucky you only have to be one at a time. The greatest lesson I've learned about fatherhood is that no one has the magic solution to being the perfect father. You try as hard as you can and allow love to guide you. We screw it up sometimes, we get it right sometimes, but in the end it's the greatest and most fulfilling job in the world."

Follow John on Instagram. Also check out his podcast Grumpy Old Nerds on Facebook.

*Responses edited and condensed for clarity

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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