Reclaiming Our Way promoting the well-being of African American children & families


Challenging Society’s Stereotypes of Black Fathers

"Bet on Black" editor Kenrya Rankin Naasel was raised by a black single dad. She joins HuffPost Live to share her story and discuss how the perception of fatherhood has changed for African Americans in the age of Barack Obama.

  • Kenrya Rankin Naasel @kenrya (Washington, DC) Editor of 'Bet On Black'
  • Nick Chiles @nickwrite (Atlanta, GA) Author, "Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge"
  • Dion Chavis @thesinglefather (Raleigh, NC) Healthy Relationship Educator With Family Resource Center Of Raleigh; Founder of

HuffPost Live  (approx. 21 min.)
Originally aired on February 6, 2014


African American Fathers… Doing What It Takes!

I've mentioned numerous times that the greatest joy I've ever felt was the day I became a father. I remember very clearly when my daughter was born. In an instant my sense of my place in the world felt fundamentally different. The feeling only intensified when my son was born.

Along this journey, the decade plus a few years that it's been, I've learned a great deal about what it means to be a father. Below are a number of essential affirmative statements describing fatherhood, at least as I've come to appreciate it. Most are in no particular order, and I admit being far better at some of these than others.

The beauty of life is that you get to practice things over and over again, getting better and better with experience. And that's really what I've come to appreciate as the true beauty in fatherhood. We get to practice it every single day, and often with very immediate feedback.

So I'm sending lots of love to all the fathers out there, and the mothers that make our critically important roles possible. May we all continue to do everything it takes.

Affirmative Statements on African American Fatherhood

African American fathers show our highest appreciation for God, the Creator, the Supreme life force in the universe.

African American fathers actively demonstrate our highest regard for mothers, for without mothers, we could never experience the Divine gift of fatherhood.

African American fathers connect our children to relatives, for a child without family is like a boat adrift at sea, with no oars or no paddles.

African American fathers learn from and listen closely to our elders.

African American fathers wake up in the middle of the night to hold and comfort our infant children.

African American fathers cry when we are sad and hurting, showing that it’s human to express emotion.

African American fathers comfort our children when they are sad or hurt, and then help

African American fathers encourage our children to do their best in school.

African American fathers create conditions that nurture our children’s curiosity and creativity.

African American fathers let teachers know we hold high expectations for our children, and expect them to demonstrate the same.

African American fathers help our children with homework when needed, to the greatest extent we can.

African American fathers volunteer to go on our child’s field trip at least once during the school year.

African American fathers go to parent teacher conferences, or make other arrangements to talk with our child’s teachers.

African American fathers braid our daughters’ hair.

African American fathers find consistent ways to encourage and support mothers.

African American fathers cook meals with real (nutritious) food.

African American fathers learn from other fathers.

African American fathers demonstrate a healthy lifestyle, in the things we eat, drink and the ways we take care of our bodies.

African American fathers teach our children to respect their elders.

African American fathers provide the right amount of structure for our children.

African American fathers actively seek out information about African American child and adolescent development.

African American fathers laugh with our children.

African American fathers change diapers.

African American fathers discipline our children with care and love, for the purpose of correcting inappropriate behavior.

African American fathers wash dishes.

African American fathers protect our children and our families at all costs.

African American fathers acknowledge our mistakes, and our ability to make corrections.

African American fathers help our children appreciate the diversity of male personalities and representations in the world.

African American fathers find appropriate and sometimes creative strategies for making sure our children's basic material needs are met.

African American fathers place our
children in environments where there are supportive, nurturing and responsible adults, who promote the health and well being of children.

African American fathers help to heal the emotional wounds of both our sons and daughters.

African American fathers listen, read and reflect, showing by example the value of learning, deep thought and understanding.

African American fathers study, in an effort to fully understand the history of African people in the world.

African American fathers help our children and families understand and navigate the terrain of racism and white supremacy (the myth and pathology) in this world, with a balanced emphasis on resistance and self care.

African American fathers teach our child about the history of African people, and our place in the world.

African American fathers read to our children every night before they go to bed.

African American fathers are not perfect, and work on being better fathers every single day.

African American fathers demonstrate the importance of Good Speech.

African American fathers give thanks every day and night for the Divine gift of at least another day of fatherhood.

African American fathers do whatever it takes!

African American fathers absolutely love being fathers!


A Celebration of African American Fathers

African American fathers continue to get a bad rap in our society. But I'm proud to say that my brother and I grew up with a very strong and powerful father, fully present and actively involved. And we weren't alone. My brother and I grew up with many powerful examples of responsible fathers all around us.

That having been said, today is a special day in my world. The greatest male influence in my life, Dr. Ellword Miller, was born on this day in 1943.

In celebration of my father's birthday, I'm posting an essay I wrote back in 2007. I wrote this personal letter to my father as a tribute to the power and integrity of African American fathers all over this country, and throughout our history.

This essay was one of fourteen I wrote between 2006 and 2010, and published in my 2010 book Facing the Rising Sun: Perspectives on African American Family and Child Well-Being. My father passed, and made his transition into the community of Ancestors, just a few months after we celebrated the book's September 2010 publication. Since his transition, I've continued to learn from his example every single day.

I dedicate this again, in its original form, to all of the fathers out there. We stand on solid ground, and your examples are recognized and very much appreciated!

A Celebration of African American Fathers
Perspectives on Our Work, No.7

June 22, 2007

Greetings, and thank you for reading this issue of our ongoing analysis and commentary publication.

In this issue I would like to celebrate the significance of African American fathers and their immeasurable contribution to the history and continued development of African American families.  I will do so in a very personal way by reflecting, in the form of a letter, on my relationship with my father.

As was the case with my celebration of mothers, this essay is also a difficult one to write, as these reflections are very personal.  After experiencing the last six years of fatherhood, I am clear that African American fathers are likely among the most misrepresented and misunderstood groups of people.  But still we rise!

Dear Dad, there are few public representations of African American fathers that shed light on the strength and integrity of our experience.  Most of the depictions that claim to capture the personal side of fathers only talk about our pains, missteps and tribulations, and how we struggle just to stay alive and find meaning in life.  Well there is another story that needs to be told.  I would like to reflect on the tremendous passion, courage and sacrifice that so many African American fathers make every day to ensure that our children, families and communities are well.  This is a reflection on men like you.

This essay can’t undo all of the craziness people say about African American fathers, but it is a way for me to say thank you and celebrate all that you have meant to me.  As with my recent reflections about mom, there are likewise many reasons for me to thank you for being a great father.

I am deeply appreciative of the discipline you helped to instill in Khari and me.  You always insisted that we listen to and show respect for mom, other adults and our elders.  These values and rules were non-negotiable.  You made it clear that our behavior didn't only reflect on us as individuals, but also our family and community, including the rich, proud legacy of our ancestors.

I have to tell you that of all our friends you were always viewed as one of the strictest fathers.  Physically you have always had a commanding presence and you had minimal tolerance for nonsense when it came to us and our friends as we were growing up.  I realize now that one big reason for that was that the stakes were (and continue to be) too high for African American youth getting caught up in otherwise typical adolescent nonsense.

While you were strict and quick to discipline us for getting into trouble, you have always been a very fun and affectionate father as well.  I remember those many nights you came home after we were in bed,  came into the bedroom, closed the door quietly behind you, and scared the mess out of us by making strange noises.  Then you’d start tickling us and wrestling with us until we were either too tired or started crying from laughter.  You would then tuck us back in and kiss us goodnight.  Those were great days.

You also made sure we did recreational and other fun activities together as a family, including tennis, swimming, badminton, pizza nights and other family outings and vacations.

On the serious side, I remain thankful for the effort you made to expose me as an adolescent to some of the service activities of the Detroit Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.  It was my involvement with the Detroit Kappa League that showed me the real potential of African American social and civic organizations, when they are committed to ideals higher themselves.  The African American men I was exposed to through this experience demonstrated the values of sacrifice, discipline, hard work, education, service and achievement.  More importantly, however, these men were not committed to a selfish kind of individual and personal achievement, but made it clear that even our personal goals must be in support of our families, the larger community and unequivocally in support of the continued healing and development of the African American community.

I am equally thankful for the examples of fatherhood found in my other cousins, uncles and extended family growing up.  You all have been devoted fathers, protecting us as best you could from the madness in the streets, and ensuring that we followed a path to success and self-sufficiency for ourselves and now our families.

Dad, I frequently find myself thinking about the crisis state of affairs facing African American youth.  I find myself reflecting on the climate growing up in 1970’s and 1980’s Detroit.  This was the period that teenage gun violence started to skyrocket to unprecedented and senseless levels.

It is with this in mind that I appreciate all of the lectures and other steps you and mom took to keep Khari and me from getting too caught up in that pathology.  I appreciate and respect the way you intervened to de-escalate that petty neighborhood beef when we were in high school.  You got us and another family to sit down and talk through the senseless drama that could very easily have resulted in more Black teenage gun violence.  I can appreciate that in all of your years as a middle and high school guidance counselor and principal in the Detroit Public Schools, you have seen your share of what that pathology has produced, and the pain and heartbreak it has inflicted on families.

I remember when you sat me down in the family room and shared with me some of your observations of the American political and criminal justice systems, especially as they relate to African American families.  Your message was neither one exclusively about “personal responsibility” nor one exclusively about “blaming the system.”  Instead your message was about critical observation, critical study, and critical reflection, as well as our responsibility to be socially and politically aware and engaged.  Through your words and your example, you demonstrated what it means to be actively engaged, and to work with integrity in the interests of African American families and communities.

There’s another big lesson you taught me.  I can’t remember what I was struggling with, but you shared with me that the most difficult aspect of any decision is actually making it.  You went on to share the importance of weighing your options, and then moving forward with the option that feels most comfortable.  You told me to put fear aside and don’t get stuck thinking about all of the “what ifs.”  You said that even when the decision is wrong, you can at least try to correct it and move on.  But you have to actually get through the decision to have that opportunity.

I have come to appreciate that even when we exercise poor judgment and/or make unwise decisions, the great thing is that we frequently have time and are given opportunities to work through the consequences.  It might take some time, but that’s the beauty of life... our experiences produce opportunities for learning and growth.  I appreciate your lessons and your example.

Dad, you and mom have blessed Khari and me in immeasurable ways.  Your example of how to live life through the easy times and the difficult times has been priceless.  If I can build on the example the two of you have provided, I am confident that I will also be a great father like you!

Thank you again, and I Love You!


A Father’s Jam Session with Stevie Wonder, Sir Duke, and the World’s Greatest Children

When I picked my son, Damani, up from school on Wednesday, he asked me if I'd ever heard of the song, Sir Duke.  Now let's be clear, this is a ten-year-old asking me about Sir Duke!  I was gentle with him.  I asked if he was talking about Stevie's Sir Duke.  Indeed, he was. Then I asked him who daddy's favorite artist in the whole world is... Of course, he knew exactly who it's been for as far back as I can remember... the one and only Stevie Wonder!!

Damani went on to tell me that they had a substitute teacher in music class that day, and that the sub had them listening to Stevie Wonder's hit song Sir Duke.  He went on to talk about how much he LOVES the song - in fact, he said Sir Duke is now his favorite song.  (Sometimes I really wish I could still be in elementary school!)  So of course, after we got home, in the middle of the homework routine, we went right into an impromptu Stevie Wonder family jam session.

After about 4-5 times listening to Sir Duke, my daughter Aya got into the mix, and started doing the wild girl dance (she actually asked me not to tell you all that, although I'll admit that she's definitely a better dance than I am).  Naturally, after she hung in there with Sir Duke for a few repeats, then we had something waiting for her, too.  We went right into the live clip of a combined Isn't She Lovely and Sunshine of My Life.  (Video clips of both songs are just below.)

In addition to knowing daddy's favorite artist, Aya remembers that these are two of the songs I sang to her every single night when she was just a little baby.  That was our special father-daughter routine, singing, humming and carrying her around our little apartment, first when we put her to bed the first time, and again when she woke up in the middle of the night.

By popular demand, we continued the Sir Duke jam session in the car on the way to school the next morning.

The reason I'm sharing all this is because I absolutely LOVE being a father.  The development of good character, becoming a good person - of service in healing and developing our community, and the pursuit of excellence at everything we do... those are among the core values that guide us.  In the midst of all of this come the constant reminders that family comes first,  life can and will indeed be challenging sometimes, and that there are many lessons about living to be learned along the way.  Everything else is either extra, or an unwanted distraction.

Something I've come to realize is that there is no easy pathway to becoming a firmly anchored African American young adult... one who is confident, with a strong sense of purpose, and an intact cultural identity.  It takes a lot of thoughtful nurturing, structure, filtering and consistency.  Unfortunately, what can easily get lost in all of this, especially in this hyper-busy and hyper-competitive society we live in, is the importance of being fully present and genuinely joyful in the moments we have with our children.

While maybe not a huge deal in the larger scheme of things, it felt great - as it always does, to just stop everything - completely unplanned - and have some real fun as a family... in this case listening to some of our classical music that spans the generations.  It's the kind of thing I had the gift of being able to do with my parents growing up, and something I appreciate being able to do with my children more and more every day.

I wanted to share this because I see every day that our children are longing to be connected... connected to us (parents and elders) in particular.  Unfortunately also, too many of our children begin to lose that essential joy,  that sparkle in their eyes, as a result of the (almost exclusively) directives they get from us about what to do, what not to do, what they messed up on, etc.  In this society, too many of our children miss out on the opportunity to actually be just that, growing and learning children.

So my encouragement to all of us is that we make a special effort to take the few moments of every day to actually be fully present with our children, laughing, smiling and showing them the simple beauty in being alive, especially in relationship with others who care deeply about them.  I want this for all of our children, just as much as I want it for my own.  Ultimately, our children really are the most precious gifts we bring forth into this world.