Sean Williams, a 37-year-old father of three and Black man, was sick of hearing white neighbors in his new Long Island neighborhood praise him for being a dad who “acts” like one. To him, the comments were bothersome, not to mention—casually racist.
“The stereotype is just not true… to get a compliment about sticking around for your child or being an active dad is just insane,” he told CBS News.
The stereotype Williams refers to is the long perpetuated and racist “missing black father” myth that leads people of other races to believe that an outsized number of black children grow up without fathers or father figures.
According to data from the National Center for Health Statistics, black fathers bathe, dress and diaper-change their children they live with on a daily basis more than any other racial group.
Williams set out to change the baseless and damaging perception 4 years ago when a white woman in his Long Island grocery store approached him and his youngest daughter as they shopped to “compliment” him for, “sticking around.”
“I spoke with my friends who are all active black dads and asked them if they had similar experiences,” Williams said. “The answer was yes.”
So Williams launched “The Dad Gang.”
What began as an Instagram page where he posted photos of his kids, now aged 15, 4, and 3 grew to become a hub for other black fathers to share their lives and stories of fatherhood along with tips and advice for other dads.
The account, which currently has more than 86,000 followers, features black fathers’ daily lives: grooming their children, dancing and playing, helping with homework, and cooking. Black dads are also shown in their proudest moments at graduations and special events, attending reunions, and supporting their kids in extracurricular activities.
Edward Smith, 34, is Williams’ right-hand man at The Dad Gang. Not yet a father himself, Smith said, “I wanted to help change the narrative.”
“When you Google ‘dad,’ you rarely see black dads,” Smith said. “There is such a limited, one-dimensional representation of black fathers.”
Muhammed Nitoto, a 36-year-old father of six and creator of “Chronicles of Daddy,” a blog about his own experience as a black father, got involved with The Dad Gang via social media.
“Images are powerful,” Nitoto said. “They change the perception of people, which is why it’s so important to have platforms that display black dads in a positive light.”
Last year Williams brought The Dad Gang into the city and organized an event called “Strollin’ with the Homies,” where over 100 dads and their kids joined up for a walk.
“The purpose of the stroll was to visually demonstrate the strength of black fatherhood. I don’t think anyone has seen black dads congregate and connect on such a large scale like that,” Williams said. “It became a real movement after that.”
The Dad Gang now hosts regular in-person events, brunches, workshops, community playdates and even father-child karaoke. In an effort to support other fathers, Williams facilitated a discussion panel at Google in New York and Washington DC.
“I hope it sticks in the minds of those who thought we were MIA … that despite what the world says, despite the stereotypes that are out there, we are dad goals,” Williams said.
As the Black Lives Matter movement continues, The Dad Gang joins the fight for justice and change.
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On Father’s Day, The Dad Gang organized a group walk in DC, beginning at the National Museum of African American History and Culture and culminating at Black Lives Matter Plaza.
“Now more than ever, we need to fight against injustice and social inequality, and bring black fathers together,” Williams said. “I feel this is my purpose.”
Happy Fathers Day to these heroes. If you’re looking for #DadGoals, they out there.
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