Father’s Day is a day to celebrate all the wonderful fathers in the world. However, for Black people, Father’s Day has too often turned into a day to discuss all the dysfunction with Black men—especially a lack of Black fathers. President Obama, Bill Cosby and other Black leaders often preach and lecture about the “brokenness” of Black male fathers and role models. (The irony of Bill Cosby morally shaming people is not lost on me.) This Father’s Day, I want to send a message of encouragement to Black students, especially our Black boys in schools. I want to show them—and all of us—the people we might not see every day—the many successful Black men who aren’t only athletes, actors or rappers. These 16 brothers—some fathers, husbands, community leaders and all amazing Black men that I love and respect—shared inspiring advice they would give to young Black students.
Brian Dawson, Sales AssociateBrian Dawson is my husband and the father of our two daughters. He’s a great salesperson and a graduate of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with a bachelor’s in journalism. Advice: “Try and look for mentors. When you have an idea, see if it’s been done before and replicate it. Don’t waste valuable time reinventing the wheel.”
Courtney Jarvis, Ph.D. in ImmunologyCourtney Jarvis is my brother, and he grew up in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. He received his bachelor’s, master’s and—as of this year—his doctorate in immunology and infectious disease from Texas Tech University. Advice: “This may sound cliche, but make sure that you practice delayed gratification. When making decisions, think about your future self, and do the thing that is most beneficial to you in the future—not just what feels good right now.”
Anthony Clark, Special Education Teacher and Community ActivistRaised in a working-class family in Oak Park, Illinois, Anthony Clark is a military veteran, high school special education teacher and active community organizer. In the summer of 2016, Anthony founded the Suburban Unity Alliance, an organization dedicated to combating discrimination by raising awareness and bringing communities together based on common interests and community goals. He believes it’s time this country lives up to its promise of liberty and justice for all. Advice: “In the words of the great Muhammad Ali, ‘service to others is the rent you pay on this Earth.’ What good is it if you have the nicest car imaginable, if all the roads are broken and no one can travel? Live your life uplifting those around you.”
Aquil Charlton, DJ and Lead Vocalist for Animate ObjectsA skilled DJ and electronic musician, Aquil "AyQue" Charlton uses his creative agility to reach a wide range of audiences. He raps over his own live production, and has backed Open Mike Eagle on synthesizers. As a vocalist and songwriter with hip-hop/soul band Animate Objects he has also opened for Lauryn Hill, Dilated Peoples, The Wailers, Mint Condition, Chingy, Kardinal Offishall and others. Offstage, Aquil is all about the social good. He has toured and taught internationally with the U.S. Department of State Cultural Affairs Division and OneBeat Program. In Chicago, he has taught music through After School Matters, Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education and Urban Gateways. Aquil is currently Program Director at Notes for Notes, a free music studio for youth, and directs the New Music Ensemble with Chicago Public Schools All City Arts program. He also leads pop-up events such as the “Mobile Music Box,” in which he rides his bicycle throughout Chicago, hosting public music studio and instrument-making activities. Currently, he is preparing to release new hip-hop projects while raising a 3-year-old genius. Advice: “Trust your instincts and embrace your culture. Resist the urge to abandon your integrity for the sake of temporary gain. The long game is worth so much more to you and the resilience necessary to achieve it will be your new superpower.”
Carnell Griffin, Entrepreneur and Principal Interior DesignerCarnell Griffin is an interior designer and entrepreneur. Advice: “As a Black person seeking more knowledge in the world, knowing how much external wisdom and advice to apply and digest into your personal narrative will be the biggest test. Here are three tips to remember: 1) Shut up: You’re not as smart as you will be. 2) Put your money to work: You will and can live a debt-free life, with a multitude of financial streams depositing to you. 3) Get you some Jesus: All of the supernatural portions of life that non-believers speak of—‘have faith it will work,’ ‘just believe in yourself,’ ‘good things come to those who [blank]’—will never unlock their full weight until you get Jesus in your soul.”
Christian Harris, Entrepreneur and Civic LeaderChristian Harris is a lifelong Oak Park resident and a graduate of Bradley University. For the last five years he has been co-owner of MaidPro, a cleaning service with over 150 clients and 13 employees. Christian has a strong dedication to his community and is on the executive board of the Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. He was elected to the Oak Park Library Board in 2017 and serves as its finance officer, overseeing a budget of $8 million. He also sits on the Young Professionals Board of H.O.M.E. (Housing Opportunities and Maintenance for the Elderly) in Chicago, which works towards affordable housing for low-income seniors. In his free time, he tutors children in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood, helps future entrepreneurs develop their business plans, and watches Chicago sports with his high school buddies. Advice: “Find time to do something you like every day. Even if it’s only for five minutes or less. In your life you will have to do many things that you are not passionate about or don't like—such as school, taking out the trash or eventually a job. However, the things you are passionate about will keep you going and remind you that life is about happiness.”
Credell Walls, Civic, Nonprofit and Environmental LeaderCredell Walls spent more than 15 years of his career implementing nature-based youth development programs with the Jane Goodall Institute-USA and the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance. Currently, he continues connecting people to the environment with the Forest Preserves of Cook County as the community engagement specialist. He holds a bachelor’s from DePaul University in nonprofit management and will finish his master’s in biology from Miami University of Ohio in December 2018. He has presented on radio and on stage with the world-renowned primatologist and United Nations Ambassador, Dr. Jane Goodall. In his spare time, he enjoys performing sketch comedy, going to the movies and being with his wife and their adorable 14-month-old. Advice: “Never give in to peer pressure, even if you’re afraid. Being different is a gift, so embrace it. That's what makes you special. Although you might go through some bad days, wait it out for the good days and then be prepared to do it again and again. Take this moment in your life to watch people and choose the parts of them you like to add to what you know. Learn from everyone so there is no need to feel jealous. Pick your battles. It's great to stand up for yourself, just know when and how to do it.”
Eugene Bush, FilmmakerEugene Bush is a producer and director and the owner of E-Tre Productions. He has over 10 years of project planning and implementation experience in a variety of areas including finance, accounting, database and web development, programming, networking, automation and customer support. He runs a video production business full-time but still finds time to manage IT-related projects. Advice: “Do your best to create with what you have around you. Don't wait for the better actor, for the better equipment, for the better money, for the better location. Progression beats perfection every time. You will find once you begin completing projects even with the limited resources you have the universe begins to line up to send you the resources that you need. Furthermore, experience is the best teacher. So once you begin completing projects, you'll learn exactly what you need to do to make the next project better. Don't fall into the trap of, ‘Once I know everything then I'll move on.’ You'll never know everything. Lastly, don't worry about the critics and haters. They are going to hate because that's their job. Your job is to produce and prosper. Be blessed.”
Henry Thomas III, Career MilitaryHenry Thomas grew up on the South Side of Chicago and had two wonderful and resourceful parents, Judy Dotson and Henry Thomas. Because of his life changing childhood experiences at Fred A. Grow Memorial Camp in Wisconsin, he realized the world was much more than his South Side community. He graduated from Hyde Park Career Academy and has spent over 20 years in the United States Air Force. Today he lives in southern Illinois with his wife and two college-age young adults. Advice: “In order to get to where you want to be in life, you will need to step out of your comfort zone and work hard. Your future is out there; go and put your name on it. This is especially paramount for children of color. Never judge a book by its cover. That dirty mechanic, that dirty garbage man, may have a lot on the ball. I am one of those dirty guys.”
Dr. Fred Bonner, Expert in Black Male AchievementDr. Fred Bonner is a professor and endowed chair in educational leadership and consulting at Prairie View A & M University, where he directs the MACH-III Center for the advancement of minority populations in education, from preschool through college. He is a leading expert on educating African-American males. Previously he held the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Endowed Chair in Education at Rutgers Graduate School of Education, where he spearheaded creation of the Black Male Summit and the HBCU Deans Think Tank. Advice: “For all students, the first step is to believe that you can be a ‘scholar’—to develop what a professor by the name of Gilman Whiting calls a ‘scholar identity.’ When you are in school, start all of your words, believing, knowing and saying, ‘I am a scholar!’”
John Norman: Oilman, Athlete and CoachA native of Midland, Texas, John had a stellar football career through college and the NFL. He now owns two businesses. By day, he works as a contract lease operator in the oilfields of Midland and by night, he serves as an athletic trainer for kids of all ages. He is husband to Denise and a father of three. Advice: “This is what my father, the greatest role model of my life, Jerry L. Norman, taught me: ‘There's not wrong in right, and there's no right in wrong.’”
Karl Nero, Pilot and PastorKarl Nero grew up in Chicago’s Roseland neighborhood. He graduated as salutatorian from St. Francis De Sales High School and went on to earn a bachelor’s in aviation human factors from the University of Illinois. He’s an airline pilot, flight instructor and an associate pastor in Chicago. He recently graduated from Moody Theological Seminary with a master’s in Biblical Studies. He and his wife of 15 years, Melanie, live with their three children in Chicago’s southwest suburbs. Advice: “Do the right thing; don’t do the wrong thing. Don’t think White folks are smarter because they have a different skin tone. God created me and you with the same ability to learn and excel, so strive for excellence.”
Keith Lewis, Nonprofit and Community LeaderKeith Lewis is a firm believer that you have to be an active part of the change that you want to see happen and has followed this mantra throughout his professional career. A native of Muskegon, Michigan, Keith has 20 years of experience with community-based organizations, educational and government institutions. He currently serves as director of programs for Heartland Alliance READI Chicago, an initiative geared toward individuals most at risk for gun violence. Formerly, as director of community engagement for the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, Lewis led an initiative to improve education, financial stability and health in 10 communities, involving over 300 partner agencies. In 2014, the Obama White House selected Keith to provide recommendations and insights to the “My Brother’s Keepers” initiative aimed to augment the Black and Latino male achievement gap. Coupled with this, he is an advocate for fathers’ rights and served as an advisor and facilitator for Fathers, Families and Health Communities, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that serves low-income, non-custodial fathers. Keith earned a master’s in public administration from Governors State University and a bachelor’s in materials and logistics management from Michigan State University. In his spare time, he loves listening to music, playing fantasy football, reading, watching indie films and spending time with his wife and three children. Advice: “My words of advice to students of color are to openly pursue inserting themselves into places and spaces where they may feel like an outsider or an ‘other.’ However, continue to be their authentic selves; express and speak truth to power and do not compromise their values and integrity. Be intentional and intentful on learning from all, recognizing there is wisdom and lessons to be learned from those with Ph.D.s and those with no degrees.”
Larry Dawson Jr., Public ServantLarry earned both bachelor’s and a master’s degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Most of his career has been spent in government helping people in need, from the elderly, to the unemployed, to families needing their homes to be healthier and more energy efficient. Larry lives in Chicago with his wife and son. When he’s not working, he’s learning new things and pushing himself beyond his comfort zone. Advice: “Put maximum effort into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects because that's what the good-paying jobs of the future will require. Surround yourself with friends who want just as much from life as you. Set goals that seem a little beyond your reach and make a plan. Hold your friends accountable for working toward their goals and ask that they do the same for you. Keep your word. Be honest. Act confident even when you're terrified. Always try to learn something new. Talk to people who are different than you. Be persistent. Be prepared. Be on time. Don't let previous failures or mistakes stop you. Learn from them and move on. Failing is the way we learn how to succeed.”
Randall Johnson, Flight Attendant, Worship Leader and Vocal CoachRandall Johnson was born in Detroit and raised in Las Vegas by his loving grandparents, who stepped in when his mother died and his father was struggling with addiction. As a performer, Randall travels the country. Randall is the father of one. As an artist, Randall has a fan base of over 10,000 via his Instagram handle, @r_davon. He travels the country singing at major venues and theaters. Randall was a featured vocalist on the Las Vegas Strip’s House of Blues and was featured on the Impact Network’s “Dr. Bobby Jones Presents” show. Randall is also a worship leader, vocal coach and flight attendant for Spirit Airlines. Advice: “You have the strength and power to achieve greatness. Don’t allow fear and doubt to deter you away from your goals. Keep trying no matter how many times you hear no. All you need is one yes. Keep working until you find your yes. Once you make it to the position you want to be in, then reach back and be that yes to someone else.”
MacArthur Antigua, Civic Engagement DirectorMacArthur was born in Shorewood, Wisconsin, and raised in Palos Hills, Illinois. He earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in communications from Northwestern University. His personal mission is to cultivate his artistry and share his genius to build a joyful, just and enlightened society. He is the father of two daughters, Meera (age 10) and Leela (age 12). Advice: “If you really want something, then give yourself permission to go for it. There are hundreds of reasons why you may not get that thing, but don't let your lack of effort be on that list. This is especially hard when you haven't seen people in your family, or people who look like you hold that role, but you're worth trying. You're more than worth the attempt. And there will be others like you who see you try, and they may not show it, but you've inspired them.”
Photo courtesy of author.
ShaRhonda Knott-Dawson is the mother of two free-spirited, strong-willed girls and has a husband who should be appointed a saint for co-existing in the madness that is their life. She writes on politics, education, current events and social justice. She is also a taco enthusiast, a proud member of the Bey-hive, and truly believes that she will be receiving her letter from Hogwarts any day now.