A Conversation on Race: Black Fathers Speak Out
Recent tragic events have fostered valuable discussions on race in Atlanta and beyond. Three local Black fathers share their perspectives on raising their children.
Brian Anthony Williams
During a recent phone call, my father and I drifted into a conversation about our nation’s long history of racial injustice. Moving from fury to heartbreak, my father described the myriad of emotions he experienced as a Black man living in the Jim Crow South during the middle of the twentieth century. At the top of this list was fear: the fear that his children and grandchildren would experience the same world. While I know our nation has changed since the mid-1900s, I also understand the power of systemic racism and its persistent influence on the lives of my children. In many ways, my father’s nightmares are my children’s reality. As their father, I cannot simply teach my children to reach for their dreams and aspirations. I must also prepare them to navigate and, when possible, dismantle systems of racial inequality that seek to limit their possibilities and diminish the humanity.
What does that mean? It means that I don’t tell my children to “be good” or to “listen to their teachers” when I drop them at school. Instead, I tell them to “ask good questions.” I know that as children of color in the United States, their ability to ask critical questions will serve them better than blind obedience to the authority to unjust laws. It means that I model ways to challenge stereotypes designed to place boundaries on their lives. My children know that their father has skydived from airplanes, camped in the Namibian bush, summited Mt. Kilimanjaro, and done things that we are told that Black people just don’t do. Finally, it means that I must make the invisible systems of racial oppression visible by talking with my children about the realities of their world and the things that they can do to change it. I have inherited my father’s dream for a better tomorrow for my children, and I am doing everything in my power to prepare my children with the tools needed to build it.
Brian Anthony Williams is dad of two and Clinical Professor in the Department of Early Childhood Education at Georgia State, and Director of the Alonzo A. Crim Center for Urban Educational Excellence.
The year 2020 has been challenging, to say the least, for African American parents. It is my belief that our ability to hold our families together during these unprecedented times has worked to strengthen our bonds as parents with our children. With twins who are rising 8th graders at Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School, the second half of the 2019-2020 school year worked to strengthen our family bonds in ways we could not have dreamed of.
I was taught at an early age that staying positive when faced with unexpected challenges is the foundation of building character. So I’ve taken the challenges we’ve faced thus far in 2020, and have looked to use them as a “learning tool” for my twins.
As parents, helping them move from learning in the classroom to learning at home created an incredible opportunity for us to appreciate teachers like we never have before. It also allowed my children to get a “crash course” in “self-directed learning,” which will prepare them for college. I call all these situations described above, “The COVID-19 Blessings.” Without this pandemic and racial/social unrest, we would not have been able to take these “huge leaps forward” in our family engagement. Our children will be starting school with virtual learning, and because of the strength we’ve built as a family this spring, I’m confident they’ll be ready to meet the challenges of middle school in the fall.
Dave Mitchell has two daughters and is founder and CEO of Better Outcomes for Our Kids.
Being a Black man from Rhode Island raised by white parents, my perspective on race relations and diversity is complex. Racial strife has recently been elevated here in Atlanta and across the country; however, it has always been very present everywhere. For example, the small town that I grew up in Rhode Island lacked color and diversity. I found myself being picked on and fighting every day due to the color of my skin. I even witnessed other white parents make racist statements to my parents about other Black people in my presence! I believe a lot of this happened in my town primarily due to a lack of education and exposure to people of color and diverse backgrounds.
Good parenting and support helped shape me to make good choices and be open minded. My Caucasian parents knew that I would have issues just because I was Black. The main thing my father, who was a fire chief, instilled in me was to always use common sense and try not to “set yourself up” for any bad situations. He also warned that if I ever got stopped by the police to be polite and respectful. Even though this advice has carried me through, I still worry about the future for my son Jacob, who is 4 years old.
It is unfortunate that the current political scene and leadership have activated some people with racists ideals to be braver by way of their voice and actions. However, the good thing about current climate is that it has brought some important racial issues to the surface. It’s a good thing that people are seeing and becoming in tune with the struggles of minority races. I hope that by the time my son becomes a little older, the conversations being generated today will lead to true change and positive outcomes for better race relations.
When it comes to parenting, I believe good teaching and exposure are keys. Parents have to expose their children to people of different races, because this allows them to destroy stereotypes and see that “not everyone is bad,” and perhaps the lives of all Black people are not just primarily “sports and hip-hop.” Exposure to diversity should also happen early in a child’s life. With so many people existing together from various ethnicities and backgrounds, no one should ever feel afraid or “uneasy” about anyone simply due to their skin color or appearance.
Larry Chase is a dad and area mortgage professional.
– Monica Croom