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Why Juneteenth & Father’s Day are Special for Black Dads During Covid

By Paula Penebaker and Darryl Sellers

This year, Juneteenth and Father’s Day fall on June 19. Of course, being a Black father in 2022 differs from the experiences of Black dads in 1865. So, let’s take a closer look.

During slavery, Black men were viewed as breeders and were prohibited from participating in the traditional family structure, as marriage was illegal. Members of African families were sold separately, thereby depriving men of the traditional role of “head of household.”

Juneteenth commemorates the historic date of June 19, 1865, when hundreds of thousands of enslaved African Americans in Texas finally learned they had been freed. Although President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, the news didn’t reach Texas slaveholders until two years later because the state was farthest west of the Confederate states.

A great deal of progress has been made since then, but there is still so much work to do to achieve true equity and equality in our country. From the educational system to the health care system, inequities are evident in underfunded Black schools and Black communities that lack access to COVID-19 vaccines. The list goes on, especially for Black men.

Consider two of today’s challenges for Black men: unemployment and incarceration.

  • Black men continue to experience persistent unemployment gaps and reduced economic opportunity, according to Forbes Magazine.
  • There were 626,800 fathers who were incarcerated as of 2021, according to the Sentencing Project.

Despite these daunting challenges, positive Black father figures are very visible. From the boardroom to the block, they serve as role models, mentors and coaches for their children and their communities.

Black fathers like Stephen B. Thomas, Ph.D., director of the Maryland Center for Health Equity, and Andre Russell, owner of the Barbershop Atlanta Salon, are true leaders who serve as pillars in their communities and this country. They are both fathers who are now on the national stage thanks to “Shots at the Shop,” a White House-backed effort to recruit and select 1,000 Black-owned barbershops and hair salons nationwide to promote informed decision-making to increase COVID-19 vaccinations.

“When I got the shot, I wasn’t just getting it for me,” Russell said. “I was getting it for everyone else around me, to avoid spreading or getting the virus. It’s also for you and our Black communities.”

As Black Americans navigate their third summer with COVID-19, research has shown the pandemic, coupled with social factors such as structural racism, has had a profound impact on Black men.

“I think the message about COVID-19 vaccinations during this time needs to come from the kids to the adults — to their fathers,” Thomas said. “This is the way these messages will be taken to heart because they’ll come across as caring.”

Dr. Thomas, who has a son, said he’s thankful that his young man is vaccinated. Russell said two of his four sons are still deciding whether to get the shot. As a father, Russell continues to encourage his unvaccinated sons to get their shots, as the family plans to get together for Father’s Day and other gatherings this summer.

“My sons are independent,” Russell said. “But It’s hard to get all of us together on a Sunday afternoon. So, I keep driving home the message that it’s important to get vaccinated. This is the best protection to prevent the virus from spreading. I remind them to take that into consideration, especially to protect me because I have COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).”

Many barbers and stylists involved in “Shots at the Shop” have become certified community health workers to help their communities. Local health department workers have been administering COVID-19 vaccinations at barbershops like Russell’s since 2021. Since then, more than 2,000 vaccine shots and boosters have been administered at Russell’s Barbershop, and more than 1,000 shots have gone into arms at many of the other barbershops and salons in the program.

“I see the barbershops and salons as the important and trusted information centers for our community, Dr. Thomas said. “We’re going to write our own story. We’re going to save ourselves.”

This is a special time to celebrate Black dads and all they have had to overcome. Fathers play an invaluable role in their children’s lives and in the communities where they live and serve. This Father’s Day and Juneteenth let’s honor them for the unique gifts and strengths they bring to life’s table.

Paula Penebaker and Darryl Sellers are members of the Public Relations Team for Creative Marketing Resources, a strategic marketing agency in Milwaukee and a partner of the Cobb Institute.

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