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


Some States Are Trying to Find Better Ways of Ordering and Collecting Unpaid Child Support – The System is Still Broken

The child support system in this country is still broken. And for sure, that 'brokenness' is felt differently by the various parties involved.

Single parents - most often mothers - don't get the financial support they need to care for their child (or children). The other parent - typically fathers - have court-ordered (financial) child support obligations that they can't meet. Complicating matters more is that the little money the fathers do have they frequently prefer to use in ways they see as being in direct support of the child, including buying clothes, shoes, games and other toys, and even more generally doing activities with their children. In reality, however, for many men, the money they pay actually goes to the state, to recover the expenses they incur when the mother receives public assistance.

Furthermore, given the way many men are treated when they do get involved in the child support process, by each of the various parties involved (the public agency staff, the courts, etc.), we shouldn't be surprised so many of them stay away. Whether you or I would do the same, or perhaps handle things differently, isn't the point. The point is that the process for so many fathers is far more of a punitive and punishment-oriented process, with far less understanding and responsiveness to what so many fathers and mothers are dealing with every day in trying to meet the all around developmental needs of their children.

The bottom line, and one that more and more state and local governments and organizations are realizing, is that for many tens of thousands of people the current process doesn't work, and frequently undermines one parent's desire to have more consistent and substantive contact (not to mention relationship, something very much different from 'contact') with their children.

The brief NPR piece below gets at this dynamic a bit more, including some of the creative work being done between the child support administration in Maryland, the fatherhood programs at the Center for Urban Families in Baltimore, and the federal government.

I should also note that I found the title of this NPR piece offensive, Some States Are Cutting Poor Dads A Deal On Unpaid Child Support. I wouldn't call these innovative and experimental efforts some states are trying out as cutting the fathers some slack. I would call it waking up and realizing they have, for way too long, had the idea of strengthening families and supporting both mothers and fathers all wrong. I call that catching up with stupid, and finally realizing they have to do something different. This tinkering is usually good for the relatively few fathers and mothers involved, but the system is still - in the whole, and across this country - operating much more like it always has.

To the credit of the child support administration folks working in Maryland, however, and certainly the folks doing the fatherhood work in Baltimore and other parts of the state, they have been working to get at this for many years now.

My issue with the title is certainly more of an example of why I'm not a huge fan of NPR. The tone and substantive of their story-telling format tends to dumb down so many issues, and the presenters of the information couldn't be more disinterested in the content. Perhaps that's also because the stories I'm most interested in tend to have more impact on Black and Brown people, and the storytellers most often don't fit that profile. But... at least in this actual piece they get at some of the substantive dynamics behind the scapegoating and blaming of fathers our society does way too often.

You can listen to the full 4 and 1/2 minute report below.

Here's a brief excerpt...

When the state of Maryland wanted to reach dads who were behind on their child support payments, it started in the boarded-up blocks of West Baltimore, in neighborhoods marked by drugs, violence and unemployment.

In just four zip code areas, the state identified 4,642 people who owed more than $30 million in back child support. Most of that was "state-owed," meaning that rather than going to the child through the custodial parent, it's supposed to reimburse taxpayers for welfare paid to the child's mother.

This is a source of great resentment for many men, who say they want their money to go to their children. But most who owe it can't pay anyway, as they earn less than $10,000 a year.

"So even if we use taxpayer dollars to chase 'em down, and we catch 'em, right, and we go into their pockets, there's nothing in there," says Joe Jones of Baltimore's Center for Urban Families.

[Read the full article at NPR.]


Prentice Powell, Good Fathers and Detrimental Child ‘Support’ Policies

I just came across this clip via one of the facebook posts of the Office of African American Male Achievement at the Oakland Unified School District. I encourage you to visit and find some way to support their work, if and however you're able.

This is brother Prentice Powell, a spoken word artist based in Oakland, California, talking about the congratulatory praise he receives for being "a good father", largely from people who've never met him, only see the posts he shares via facebook and have no idea about his blocked attempts to spend more time with his son.

Through all of the talk about African American fathers, there's so little acknowledgement and exploration of the real structural barriers that stand in the way of men spending more time with their children. These structural barriers include courts, judges, attorneys, child support enforcement officials, among others, who don't see beyond the stereotypes of "absent fathers", and don't understand the value of a father's physical presence in his child's life.

This clip is just under 5 minutes, and is worth talking about with fathers and mothers you know, and even (older) children who have been separated from one of their parents because of unfair court orders and this nation's unjust mass incarceration practices.

I don't care if any of you all clap... I just want my praise, my kudos, my air, my earth, my water, my drive, my moon, my son, my baby, my motivation, MY SON! I just want my chance! I just want my son... I want my son, back!


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.





Black Fathers: Bombshell Family Secret Leads Photographer on Unexpected Journey

I just came across this powerful 5-minute video on the profound beauty and integrity of Black fathers.  Within several minutes, and stemming from his own very personal story of discovery, photographer Zun Lee offers an insightful perspective on the profound tragedy and pathology that characterizes the misrepresentation of Black / African life in the American psyche, especially the role and presence of African American fathers.

The idea of African American fathers, in many ways, is an oxymoron within the popular American imagination, courtesy of this nation's history of racism and oppression directed at African (-American) people.  Any casual examination of popular media forms reveals a distorted and extremely problematic idea of African American male absence and/or irresponsibility.  This short video challenges that pathological and widely accepted - yet false - narrative.

You have to watch this, and share it with others.  I see myself, my family, and the many other powerful examples of African American fathers I've known and observed, reflected in this emotionally moving and reflective clip.

Many thanks to brother Kenneth Braswell for passing this along via twitter, and brother Zun Lee for taking the time to share some of his journey in this form.

From the Video:

I had a lot of assumptions about what it meant to be a good father. And a lot of these assumptions were shattered just by being in the presence of these fathers.

For me it was an eye opener to see how many fathers take their responsibility seriously, that go about their business very quietly, doing something everyday to be there for the kids.  A lot of them have very difficult situations, yet they still find a way to make fatherhood work for them.

And you see it in the eyes of the partners, you see it in the eyes of the kids. These men were contrary to the stereotype, very demonstrative with their feelings, and very forthcoming with a lot of love and affection.

And that's something that was very difficult for me to be around, to witness, because it brought up a lot of emotions from the things I never experienced as a child.


For me, initially, this project was about exploring the feelings of anger and hurt and resentment that I had towards the dad that I had never known. But witnessing so many Black fathers that are trying to be the best father that they can be… they are not absent, they are not irresponsible. It really led me to a path of forgiveness and redemption because each of the fathers that I worked with and that I photographed, could have been my father. And just forgiving myself even for hanging onto the resentment for so long. I think this project more than anything else helped me on that path.


Description of this Video Project:

In this episode of The Weekly Flickr, we profile street photographer Zun Lee. A family secret inspires him to pick up his camera and confront stereotypes of African-American fatherhood. Zun embeds himself in the lives of black fathers who are trying to be as involved in their children's lives as possible. It's a journey he hopes will lead him to a path of forgiveness and redemption.




Triumphant Tuesdays: Will Smith “Just the Two of Us”


I really like this video.  It reminds me of the many moments my brother and I shared with my father growing up in Detroit, as well as the invaluable time my father was able to spend with his grandchildren during their early years.

Fathers definitely play such a powerful role in our children's development.