New York, New York
My idea was to have a platform we could use to change the way the world views Black fathers. It came from an experience I had in 2016 while grocery shopping in Long Island with my toddler daughter. An older white woman 'complimented' me for being an involved dad. I went home and called my friends to ask if they ever had a similar experience. Yes, yes, and yes. So that weekend, I posted an invitation to Black dads on Instagram to bring their kids for a stroll through a park in New York. Over 100 dads with kids in strollers turned up for that first event.
Sean Williams, a graphic artist, volunteer firefighter and father of three, spent the next five years spreading his word of mission around the country through social media. Today, The Dad Gang operates "Strollin' with the Homies," "The March of Dads," and panel discussions in New York, Washington D.C. and Atlanta. With COVID restrictions largely lifted, Williams is planning events in additional cities.
Dad Gang events typically draw upwards of 400 men and children for topical discussions as well as walks.
"We tackle topics like masculinity. A lot of men tend to be tougher on their sons. We emphasize the importance of being affectionate to boys too. We ask them flat out, 'When was the last time you kissed your boy?' We give them tips, like reciting daily affirmations with their kids and being present during play time. 'This is how babies learn,'" Williams said. "Play time is so important."
Williams is especially excited about the upcoming New Dad Bootcamp. "It will be like Lamaze class, but for men. Being in the delivery room and not knowing your role takes an emotional toll," he said. "We tell them what to expect and give them ways they can be more involved in the birth. But mostly, we listen. They need to express their concerns and worries in a place where they won't be judged."
The Dad Gang is now a full-time job for Williams. His nonprofit, called Random Acts of Dadness, recently was recognized by Jerome Bettis and the Bus Stops Here Foundation and Ford Fund with a Men of Courage "Game Changer" award of $5,000.
Williams said the money will be used to conduct a nationwide marketing campaign to encourage Black dads in other cities to organize their own Dad Gang chapters.
"We are grateful for all of the support we get," he said. "We need to do more events. We want to offer support groups and professional services for Black dads everywhere. All events are built around family. The public are seeing more and more, this is how Black dads roll. We are definitely changing the narrative by inspiring and empowering these fathers.
Ford Fund's Men of Courage Game Changer Award recognizes organizations that help Black men make a positive impact in their communities through education, business and/or social equity. Men of Courage is a national program by Ford Fund designed to advance the narrative of African American men through storytelling and community programs.