It's a rare moment when fatherhood is actually celebrated in African-American communities as, more often than not, we're reminded of the deadbeat dads, the absentee men who refuse to step up and provide more than just child support for their children. In her new book, Bet on Black: African-American Women Celebrate Fatherhood in the Age of Barack Obama, author and editor Kenrya Rankin Naasel is shining a light on the exceptional Black men who are doing right by their families with a collection of essays from Rankin Naasel and 19 other writers.
Initially conceived in 2008, the idea was temporarily shelved when motherhood, freelance writing and publishing another title demanded more of Rankin Naasel's attention. But because good ideas refuse to let us rest until we share them with the world, the concept was revived at the beginning of 2013 when Ashley Foxx, one of the book's contributors, suggested launching the book under her new publishing company Kifani Press. Below, Rankin Naasel chats with BET.com about the book's conception, running a successful Kickstarter campaign to bring the book to a wider audience and why it's so important to applaud our amazing Black fathers.
What inspired you to create a book that celebrates Black fatherhood?
The idea was inspired by a trio of dads: my father, my husband and my president. My daddy raised my little sister and me as a single father, so I've always experienced a kind of dissonance when it came to the way I saw Black fathers portrayed and what I experienced at home. He has always been there in every way, physically when I was a kid and emotionally as an adult — that man has helped me through things no father should have to think about! So he was first in my thoughts.
Then there was my husband, who I married in 2008, the year I had the idea for the book. He was already a great dad to two little girls when we met and I appreciated how his love for his kids mirrored my own father's love for his. The spark of an idea turned into a full-fledged mission after hearing President Obama speak passionately about why it is so important for him to be there for his own two daughters. To have a man running for the highest office in the land take the time to advocate for responsible fatherhood felt huge to me. I was frankly tired of all the negativity that surrounds conversations about Black men and their kids. Folks love to call them deadbeats, but that's not the whole picture. So I went in search of other women to share their positive experiences, in hopes of lifting up our men, our families and our race. Bet On Black is the result.
Why do you feel Black fatherhood needs to be celebrated and what conversations do you hope this book sparks?
For years, we've all been bombarded with statistics that scream our men are not up to the important task of fathering. But as much as I love a great infographic, no number can really illuminate an entire complicated, human situation. It's reading about real lives, connecting with actual fathers (or father-figures) who are taking care of their children in the way only they can that shines a light on the totality of the Black fatherhood picture. Ultimately, I hope that Bet On Black challenges the rhetoric about our families and changes the conversation to one that celebrates rather than denigrates.
How did you approach your publisher and writers to participate in this project and what were some of the responses you received on the idea?
The publisher, Kifani Press, actually approached me about producing the book. The co-founder of the company is one of the contributors featured in the book and when she started her company, she immediately knew that she'd like to take on this project. Her commitment to the cause told me she'd be a wonderful ally. Finding an agent to represent the project, however, was a completely different manner. When I sent my first query letter about this book to a friend's agent back in 2008, he basically said, "This is great, but I think it will really sell if we talk about how Black men have kids and don't take care of them." The second agent I pitched told me, and I quote, "Black people don't read." I now have a wonderful agent who supports the project, but I ultimately sold it on my own, via my relationship with the publisher.
When it came to the writers, the first couple of essays came from two amazingly talented friends whose work I wanted to include in the book proposal. Many others came through a call for entries that I blasted to my network and a few came on board because I reached out to them directly and asked them to join the project. The response was overwhelmingly positive and the essays in the final book represent the best of the best.
Why did you turn to Kickstarter to fund this book and what were some of the obstacles you encountered?
Having a Kickstarter presale for Bet On Black was actually my publisher's idea. She had successfully pulled it off for Kifani's first book, Keisha Cane and Her Very Sweet Tooth, and I thought it was a brilliant way to not only gather funds to help distribute the book to a wider audience, but also make some noise about our mission of celebrating Black dads. I think the biggest obstacle I faced during the campaign was my own anxiety. I was worried that folks wouldn't connect with the idea the way I had and we wouldn't meet our goal. But I was wrong! We saw a huge outpouring of support in the form of pledges, press mentions, tweets and Facebook posts. I'm so thankful that this idea is catching fire.
To grab a copy of Bet On Black, visit amazon.com.
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(Photos: Kifani Press, Courtesy of Kenrya Rankin Naasel)