Celebrating fathers, empowering parents, helping children
Madeleine Voth, Duke Ellington School of the Arts
Amora Campbell, Richard Wright Public Charter School for Journalism and Media Arts
“What happens in the house stays in the house,” is an oft-repeated saying in African-American families. Local author and media personality Jonetta Rose-Barras wants to change that.
Parents have such a big impact on their children - especially if one of them isn’t around - that Rose-Barras and others in the local African-American community are speaking up about fatherless families.
“Men have slacked in some of our responsibility, but in terms of families we need to look at ourselves,” said author and activist Vincent Muse.
Muse was speaking at a panel discussion titled “Family Restoration: Celebrating Fathers, Empowering Parents -- A Community Conversation,” sponsored by Barras’ Esther Productions and covered by UHMP last fall. Muse works often Barras and with other fatherhood advocates in D.C.
On the outside, Barras appears the stereotypically successful journalist. She’s regularly published in the local media, hosts her own TV talk show and is the author of several books. But on the inside, Barras says she’s still struggles with the identity she developed growing up without knowing her real father.
“When a girl loses this man, she grows up with an ache that nothing else can soothe,” she wrote in her 2000 book, Whatever Happened To Daddy’s Little Girl: The Impact of Fatherlessness on Black Women. “Psychologists have found that fatherless daughters are far more likely to suffer from debilitating rage, depression, abuse, and addictions.”
Barras’ community work and her personal background are deeply intertwined.
The role of mothers was also discussed as part of the talk.
Panelists agreed that when kids are asked to draw a picture of their family, mothers are typically depicted in the center, with fathers to the left.
“The basis of parenting falls mostly on the shoulders of women,” Muse said.
Mothers make up an alarming 83 percent of America’s single parents, with 30 percent of them living under the poverty line. This points to the need for father figures financially, mentally and emotionally, panelists agreed.
Stuart Anderson, a native Washingtonian, has founded multiple programs such as Family and Friends of Incarcerated People, an organization trying to meet the needs of children and families of incarcerated people in DC. The programs were inspired by a workshop he took part in while in prison, which taught him and 24 other incarcerated dads how to be fathers to their children at home.
Psychologist Tracie Robinson says “what happens in our past defines who we are,” but she works to help people recover.
“How do you deal with the heart...how do you build your family up from the bottom up?,” she asked. “We break down, we give them a session, we rebuild, then we restore.”
This brought up the question of how to get what you want back. Regaining your child’s respect after being absent is a difficult task to accomplish, she said. Still, it’s an important one as nearly 20 million children - one in four - don’t live with a father in the U.S.
Author David Miller said his devotion to the topic of fatherhood is rooted in the experience of losing his best friend while he was in college. His family, including his father, helped him make it through that loss. The Baltimore native has worked on many projects including, “A Survival Workshop for African American Males,” a course dedicated to teaching adolescent males how to survive and thrive in toxic environments.
Helping change fathers’ hearts and minds will greatly improve the lifespan of families, said Miller.
“Fathers are the secret weapon in our community,” he concluded.
Claire Thornton contributed to this article.