Matt Prestbury, founder of the Black Fathers Foundation, couldn’t stop smiling. Nothing quite prepared him for the powerful display of #BlackDadMagic, happening right before his very eyes. Inside the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History & Culture were sharply dressed Black fathers, ranging from Millennials to elders; talking, laughing, networking and basking in their brotherhood and fatherhood.
The foundation’s inaugural gala was just as Prestbury had envisioned it would be: a celebration of Black fathers. Besides the proud dads, there were also spouses, partners, adult offspring and friends. Fittingly, the festivities took place in a Baltimore museum named for Reginald F. Lewis, the late African-American lawyer, mogul, husband and father who built a billion-dollar company.
“At first we weren’t sure if people were going to buy the tickets, but we sold out,” said Prestbury, who organized the fundraiser with help from his wife, Kelly, award-winning event planner Tiffanie McCoy and a "village" of supporters. “I’m tremendously pleased and overwhelmed with the support.”
The Black Fathers Foundation aims to provide Black men and organizations that work with them, access to resources that help alleviate barriers and positively impact children, families and communities. The foundation is an offshoot of a private Facebook group solely for Black fathers that now boasts some 57,000 members who hail from around the country and world.
Said Prestbury, “We are dedicated to giving Black men who are raising or fighting to raise children the opportunity to be heard in their own words and voices, in order to shatter the stereotypes around who we are as fathers.” The father of four continued, “We are committed to providing financial assistance to organizations working to assist fathers and families, as well as fathers and families, directly.”
Despite prevailing falsehoods that portray most African American fathers as missing in action, a 2013 Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report showed that men of color, specifically, Black men, were just as involved in their children’s lives as men of other races—sometimes more so.
That sentiment, one of Black men as present and devoted fathers, underscored the September 28, 2019, gala. Maryland rapper Stan "Substantial" Robinson served as master of ceremonies for the affair, which featured reflective speeches, dinner and dessert, plus a silent auction. In an elegant space decorated with sequined tablecloths, fine china and floral displays, DJ BigNick spun classic R&B and neo-soul that got the crowd dancing.
Highlights of the evening included musician Jahiti of the group BrownFISH, whose guitar solo and singing brought the house down. The youth advocate said that while his own dreams of biological children did not turn out as planned, he’s now parenting a goddaughter and another child whose mother and father were tragically killed. “God bless every father in the room,” he said. “Extend your fatherhood to those you have not brought into the world, on purpose.”
Devlon Waddell, co-founder of DewMore Publishing and founder of Knot You Vintage, delivered the keynote address. He revealed that his own “absent” father once impacted his outlook on life. “I have been conditioned not to show vulnerability. I have been conditioned to be tough,” he said. But the married father of two says being a dad has shifted his perspective.
Waddell continued, “When you see a Black man out with his kids, say, `How you doing?’ And, mean it. Then listen. Give him that knowing nod.” Waddell urged brothas not to hide their emotions. “How often do we get to say, `I love you,’ to other Black fathers? We all we got.”
Other special moments included a tribute to six late fathers: Fred Nance, Carl Cooley, Aaron Burrell, Derrick Jones, Lamont Riley and Keith Irving. Members Terry Jones, Jamahl Smith and Corlan Budd also offered personal "Black Fathers" testimonials.
Budd, a married father of four, told BET that being in the Facebook group and meeting other fathers in person offers “a safe space” to tap into “collective wisdom, humor, thought and experiences.”
Smith encouraged men to “be there for your child no matter what.” Fight for it,” said the married father of a daughter and two stepsons. “If you have children, taking care of them should be the reason you breathe.”
The Foundations of Fatherhood Award was presented to Richard A. Rowe, author of the book Wanted Black Fathers: Only Serious Black Men Need Apply. For more than two decades, the husband, father and grandfather has operated and managed programs for African-American men and youth and provided training to parents, educators, volunteers, community leaders and organizations nationwide.
Blasting what he termed “sperm donors, ice cream Daddies, and no-show fathers,” Rowe said Black men have to “make sure our children feel valued and loved.”
Sponsors of the gala included Angie Watts LLC; Rachel Joy Designs; Knot You Vintage; and Mita Vogel. Facebook has been an avid supporter, awarding a $50,000 Facebook Community Leadership Program grant. “[Facebook founder] Mark Zuckerberg has shouted us out almost every chance he gets,” said Prestbury. “The grant I received, training and resources has made the start of the foundation and the subsequent work we’ve done possible.”
BET Networks is supporting the foundation’s efforts, as well. Tiyale Hayes, Senior Vice President, Strategic Insights & Research, traveled from New York to attend the gala.
“BET is excited about the work Black Fathers Foundation is doing to uplift and celebrate Black men,” said Hayes. He said BET previously hosted a Father’s Day brunch in Brooklyn in tandem with Proctor & Gamble. “We are committed at BET to expanding the narrow definition of Black men in the media and have worked with our partners to continue reinforcing positive images of our men so they can see themselves in a fuller, richer way.”
The Black Fathers Foundation has big plans. They include hosting annual galas in different cities; creating media and content campaigns to confront misnomers about Black fatherhood; and developing a national network of father/male support services, resources and advocates.
The organization also aims to create partnerships with national and regional fatherhood programs and other organizations to sponsor activities and provide financing to benefit individuals, families and organizations with scholarships, sponsorships and grants.
Founder, father and leader Prestbury says the group’s most important goal is this: “We want our message about loving Black fathers to spread.”
(Photo: Keston De Couteau)