By Vernon A. Williams
With sweeping changes across American society, spurred by an unprecedented level of Black consciousness, here is an idea that should go viral. How about every major city in the nation establishing a Black Fathers Hall of Fame?
Look, the National Football League has admitted it was wrong in its reaction to African American players protesting police brutality and oppression. NASCAR is banning Confederate flags from drivers’ cars and apparel. Statues honoring treasonous generals who divided the nation in the Civil War are falling faster than the stock market.
The first person to die for the freedom this nation celebrates was a Black man – Crispus Attucks. Before there was a United States of America, Blacks gave their lives for a quality of life they were denied – relegated by “founding fathers” as only three fifths of a man, and yet we continue fighting for that elusive, exalted full citizenship, ironically, when Black men are the original patriots.
The widely-held narrative portrays the African American male as lazy, despite a nation born on the back of his free labor; dishonest, though constantly the victim of systemic discrimination and bigotry built on untruths; and unintelligent, despite excelling intellectually in a climate where his education was prohibited and is still inhibited.
Despite a hateful storyline that portrays them as antagonists and villains, the Black father in America is the only real-life superhero that exists; not because he is some indestructible caped man of steel but because he emerges victorious despite his vulnerability.
Let’s imagine stories of real Black fathers pitched to Hollywood film executives. Given the stereotype of the Black man in America, how would these white filmmakers likely respond? What are the chances they would “green light” these movie ideas?
For example, Let’s say the plot features a Gary steelworker residing in a tiny one-bedroom house with his wife, nine children and show-business dreams. If you pitched that story to a movie studio saying he cultivated his family band that rises to global acclaim with a lead singer crowned as the “King of Entertainment,” the film executive would dismiss it as laughably implausible. And yet in the real world there was Joseph Jackson.
What if you approach another producer with a plot centered on a poor Black man in Compton who coaches daughters who, at one point, rose to the rank simultaneously of No. 1 and No. 2 in the tennis world? Beyond Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson, most folk would be hard-pressed to name Black tennis icons.Yet Richard Williams prepared Venus to first capture Wimbledon and Serena to become the greatest of all time. Such a story line would be rejected.
How about a pitch about a skinny boy from North Carolina who nobody believes in more than his hardworking father James R. Jordan Sr.? The climax would be his first NBA championship, that left the boy-turned-man sobbing as he embraced his dad as tightly as he clutched the coveted trophy; winning six times before retiring as arguably the greatest of all time.
The man behind the desk at the studio would likely again say, “No thanks. Unrealistic – even for Hollywood.” Yet it is a true story. And there are so many others.
Like Earl Woods, a U.S. Army Infantry Officer who served two stints in Vietnam, played college baseball, became a writer and, oh yeah, he fathered the man some insist is the best professional golfer of all time. Like Williams, Woods personally coached his gifted son from early childhood to the peak of his legendary PGA career. Yet, America knows more about television’s “Tiger King” than Tiger’s dad.
These are not the kinds of stories movie makers, the media and most Americans find most appealing. They don’t fit the negative image of Black fatherhood that most would prefer. But the list is endless and growing. There is Cuba Gooding Jr. who evolved from his “senior” namesake and Matthew Knowles who molded the phenomenal superstar Beyoncé.
The truth of Black fathers is more often than not a story of dedication, whether society is ever willing to celebrate it or not.
The focus on the fathers of Black celebrity success helps to dramatically make the point, illustrating that even on the grandest stage, African American fathers get far too little respect. But that doesn’t stop us from telling the real story through social media, local programs highlighting dads or even, yes, a Black Fathers Hall of Fame.
No need to construct a huge edifice or wall with names carved. It may be created in the world of virtual reality as a website or link in participating cities listing noteworthy local Black fathers at all income and education levels.
Honor the real brothers in neighborhoods throughout Chicago, Gary, Indianapolis and cities throughout the U.S; and spotlight their tireless commitment to “being there” for sons and daughters, shielding them from oppression, nurturing their possibilities, reaffirming their sense of self, picking them up when they fall, inspiring their highest levels of achievement in every field of endeavor, teaching them to be good people.
Whether or not a Black Fathers Hall of Fame is realistic, or never comes to fruition, is not nearly as significant as making the statement on a regular basis that African American men deserve far more recognition and credit for the fulfillment of their duties!
Typically, Black fatherhood is a labor of love from which the greatest reward is to witness the growth and success of a loving child.
Still it never hurts to say, we see you brothers out there taking care of business and we appreciate you.
Happy Father’s Day!
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].