Durham News: Opinion

Where are the ‘Fathers of the Movement’? – Pam Saulsby

Pam Saulsby
Pam Saulsby

I have struggled to find words to express what I thought and felt watching videos recently of mournful black mothers, telling the stories of their children who died at the hands of police, in police custody or from gun violence.

They are known as the “Mothers of the Movement” – a unified sisterhood grieving and unfortunately growing in number.

I watched the mothers of the Black Lives Matter movement take center stage at the Democratic National Convention in July. A month later, they walked the celebrity carpet with Beyoncé in protest before the start of the Video Music Awards. Most recently, last Sunday they rallied for Hillary Clinton in Raleigh at St. Augustine’s University.

Wherever they assemble, I am present to their strength, courage and determination. They are the force and the mettle driving a push toward solutions to stop the tragedies involving law enforcement and black men and women. They are boldly standing for justice, and they are right.

Yet, I’m left with a question I can’t seem to shake: Where are the fathers of these boys and young men?

Visuals of fathers standing shoulder to shoulder could wake up some people who are blind to the systemic pressures that make it hard for many fathers to fix their mistakes. It might begin to destroy some of the social lies that lump absent fathers into one giant heap of failure. I want to see these men even if their backgrounds aren’t squeaky clean and their images aren’t picture perfect, camera ready.

For some perspective, I called Zaphon Wilson, the dean of the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences and professor of political science at St. Augustine’s. He has major concerns about black fathers who are missing in the Black Lives Matter Movement. He put it this way:

“I think the media has focused on the stories from the mother’s perspectives because they were the first ones to step out; to engage that conversation and I am really puzzled by the lack of focus on black fathers because in many cases they were around. The mothers just took over the conversation. They took control of the conversation and black men just did not do that – at least they did not do it publicly.”

Unfortunately the appearance real or imagined that fathers are taking a back seat to the movement feeds into the narrative of indifference. The struggles of fathers fighting to defy the deadbeat dad stereotype are often usurped by rampant negative imagery of black men and fatherless children.

Wilson says it’s not too late for black men to join the growing movement of mothers whose children were killed by or in policy custody. Wilson was once an affiliate leader in the 100 Black Men of America organization. He told me that fraternities, social groups and churches could lead the charge to bring black fathers into the spotlight.

“Some of these black male leaders just did not step up to the plate on this, and in that vacuum, black mothers stepped up and articulated their positions very clearly and they did a great job with it and continue to do a great job with it. The brothers just didn’t carry the water – didn’t carry the water. I should say we didn’t carry the water.”

Wilson says faculty at the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences are bringing the crisis of black men and fathers into debate and discussions in some of their courses. He applauds new thought leaders who are pulling back the curtain and telling the truth about systemic racism.

Michelle Alexander, an activist, legal scholar, and author of the New York Times bestseller “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” is leading the charge for change. Her book actually came out a few years ago, but it has taken this country by storm.

In a recent interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” Alexander spoke on her research. She says that although Jim Crow laws are now off the books, millions of black men arrested for minor crimes remain marginalized and disfranchised, trapped by a criminal justice system that has forever branded them as felons and denied them basic rights and opportunities that would allow them to become productive, law-abiding citizens.

Confronting an uncomfortable truth is tedious and conflicting but not impossible. There is a lot of work to be done, but it can be done. Sometimes when we shift our perspective even a little about a persistent problem we can birth new insights.

Don’t stop the mothers. Make room for the fathers.

I reached out to members of the Black Lives Matter Movement for a statement. They did not respond to my request for an interview.

You can reach Pam at pamsaulsby@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @pamsaulsby or facebook/pam.saulsby