Local dad initiates program to counter stereotypes about fatherhood

Marcus Brower with his son Aaron, 7, and daughter Ariana, 5, at the inaugural Black Fathers Festival.


A father making a memory with his daughter at the festival.

Shawn Nowlin

A community organization focused on combatting stereotypes about fathers of color and their children was initiated by a local dad. Ryan Bell, 33, recently created Black Father Family (BFF), a group designed to educate and unite fathers throughout the Roanoke Valley.

The group also aims to serve as a constant reminder that many black men are products of a great lineage of strong fathers and intentional fatherhood. After gathering with some close friends in July, Bell began having meetings to discuss various logistics.

“The narrative on the black father in society is that of absenteeism, lacking emotional connection to our children and families and being viewed as needing assistance to be adequate and equal parenting partners,” he said. “My reality could not have been further from this myth. I, along with my brother, my uncles and my friends are very constant, engaged and purposeful parents.”

Bell says he learned how to be a trustworthy parent from his own father who he describes as “very proud” and “extremely humble.”

“He was a very quiet man and definitely an old southern spirit. He always offered a consistent balance of compassion to match the correction and it was always done in love. I recently lost my hero and it has been an extremely difficult time. I have yet to accept that my daddy has transitioned to become an ancestor,” he said.

Among the many things that Bell teaches his two children Iyanah, 8, and Nasir, 4, is the difference between “presence” and “presents.” When they perform well academically or engage in a selfless act, Bell rewards them. When they need to be disciplined, Bell communicates to them exactly what they did wrong, just as his father did with him and his siblings.

Last month, BFF, along with Fathers Achieving Mindfulness (FAM), hosted a festival to celebrate black fathers in the community. Local photographer Patrick Perkins offered to take portraits of each family that attended. Afterward, he said he would donate 100 percent of the proceeds to the organizations affiliated with the festival.

Black Father Family committee, from left to right, Ryan Bell, Jojo Friday, Eboni Harrington, CaSaundra Swain, D’Angelo Reynolds and Jefferson Jones

Salem resident and FAM founder D’Angelo Reynolds has three children who are ages four, two and four months. When asked what motivates him to be a great father, he responded, “It all starts with my father. Growing up, I didn’t see him as anything but what he was to and for me. I am committed to being the type of father that my girls can always be proud of.”

Children do not come with instruction books. If they did then Desmond Davis admits he would have avoided certain missteps over the years. Being a father to three teenage girls, he notes, “has been a challenge at times because they are all wise beyond their years.” He continued, “Having an organization like Black Father Family to rely on is such a blessing.”

Bell ultimately believes that Black Father Family will make parenting easier for local fathers. Free of cost, all Bell requires from participants is a commitment. For more information, visit the Black Father Family Facebook page.

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