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  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

Fathers All Are We | June 20, 2021 by Dr. Dorsey Blake

It is because you are sons/daughters that God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts crying, ‘Abba! Father!’

Galatians 4:6

While meditating over the message for today, a chapter, “Of the Faith of the Fathers,” from Dr. W.E.B. DuBois’s classic, The Souls of Black Folk, came into my consciousness. The chapter is not about particular fathers. Rather, it is about the faith of the fathers as embodied in the Black Church. The church that was the center of Black life. He writes: “The Negro church of to-day is the social center of Negro life in the United States, and the most characteristic expression of African character.” It was in the church through the preacher, the music, and the spirit – spirit, holy and ever available – that disinherited, denied, invisible people behind the Veil would find more than release. They would find themselves, and lose themselves, and find themselves anew. It was a center that readied and equipped them with self-esteem, knowledge, and strength to traverse the unjust world beyond the church’s protection, the Veil. There they dared to sing:

O freedom, O Freedom, O Freedom over me!

Before I’ll be a slave

I’ll be buried in my grave,

And go home to my Lord

And be free.

The church established a freedom that was not controlled by government. It was existential, regardless of the empirical facts that circumscribed the lives of the congregants. The Black Church was critical to the survival and thriving of the souls of Black people. In those precious moments isolated from the larger oppressive white society they built a sense of connection and deep reverence for themselves that would stiffen their determination to seek the far horizon of opportunity denied previous generations.

I kept trying to connect this faith of fathers with Father’s Day. The celebration of Father’s Day originated with the actions of Sonora Louise Smart Dodd who in 1909 was deeply moved by a Mother’s Day sermon. Realizing that she and her siblings had been raised by her widowed father, she felt that a day should be set aside to honor fathers. Her father had not only been the bread winner, but, was also her stronghold, her nurturer, her guide, one who supported her, encouraged her, was the wind beneath her wings.

My father as well as my mother modelled perseverance despite the difficulties. Both provided the necessities of life and more. The “more’ was confidence, courage, security, support, and a joy in living. They believed that God would provide. As a child, I sensed this was true for many of the fathers of my playmates. There were also Black men involved in the lives of Black children who were not their own children. They were family members or men of the community who were tied to the children in communal kinship. They were tutors and mentors of the young.

My personal experience was not in sync with the commonplace assertion that Black men were absent from the lives of their children. My feeling was reinforced by an article entitled: Black Fatherhood: Preaching a different sermon this Father’s Day.

Too many sermons on Father’s Day seem to focus on the black father’s need to engage his children because he’s shirked responsibility.

“. . . society is devastated because the majority of African American fathers are not at home nor involved in the lives of their children. The solution, therefore, is for black men to return to their responsibilities.” These statements are stereotypes, fabrications and completely wrong. And the impact of these thoughts is girded in the foundations of American society, from systems of education to access to employment, to incarceration.

Josh Lev’s article,No, Most Black Kids are not Fatherless” deconstructs the 70% of black children are fatherless” myth. Data from the CDC report, “Fathers’ Involvement with Their Children,” verify that the majority of black fathers actually live with their children (2.5 million versus 1.7 million), and, furthermore, whether living in the same home or not, black fathers are the most involved of all primary recorded race and ethnic groups.

These stats do not account for the fact that men have died or passed away, couples may live together while unmarried, couples may be divorced, and let's not forget, that, due to the system of incarceration, men are not only separated from their families but often even prevented from staying in the homes with their families if the housing is federally provided. The New York Times’ 2015, “1.5 Million Missing gave credence to this shocking reality, presenting loud and clear how our country's mass incarceration industrial complex has claimed more men than were enslaved in 1850."

Research by scholars like Waldo E. Johnson leads in efforts being made to re-educate about black fatherhood, and also brings notice to the men who stand in as genuine, authentic father figures for children who have lost fathers for whatever reasons. . .. And rather than focusing on the root cause of structural, institutional and implicit racialization, violence, poverty and general lack is scapegoated onto the backs of black fathers.

As we approach Father's Day, when the horrific 70% statistic is utilized so often, I urge our religious and congregational leaders to re-speak the narrative. Speak to the power of how millions of African American men and dozens of programs . . . are shedding light on the actual truth: most black children are not fatherless and Black American Fatherhood is very much alive!

I cannot expunge this image from my soul! A father and his daughter just trying to make it home, a home with a better chance of living with some sense of fullness. A father undertakes an arduous journey with his daughter because he must. He does not really know if the new land will be better. He does know, however, that he and she must not remain where they were.

I am reminded of the passage from Olive Schreiner:

A man far out at sea on a dark night, struggling with the waves in his small boat, sees faraway a light he thinks to be the harbour light and strikes towards it; knowing he may be mistaken, and that long before daybreak man and boat may be engulfed, he still strikes towards it, labouring without certainty of ever reaching it but with unalterable will and determination, because it is the only light he sees.

How many other fathers with or without children have fled various form of oppression striding toward freedom, committed to escaping, poverty, oppressive regimes, and other conditions that our nation has helped to create and died on the way, were incarcerated, or deported.

My heart is crying Lord, come by here.

How many years can some people exist Before they're allowed to be free? How many times can a man turn his head And pretend that he just doesn't see? How many ears must one man have Before he can hear people cry? How many deaths will it take 'til he knows That too many people have died?

Published 5/13/2021 in the East Bay Times

My father will be deported next month. I am 15 years old and am facing the possibility of losing him permanently.

After years of an expensive and stressful legal process, my dad received a final decision on his immigration case. His plea to stay in the United States was denied, meaning he will be required to leave our home and go to Mexico.

He will be forced to leave behind a life he has built here for 25 years. The deportation leaves few to no options for him to ever return.

My father helped build this nation as a carpenter, constructing homes, shopping centers and resorts. He has lived here since he left Mexico when he was 16 years old. While my grandmother, uncles and aunts became citizens or legal permanent residents, my father has been the only one unable to fix his immigration status because of a mistake he made long ago.

In 2005, when he was a young man, he had a drug conviction. He was one of the millions affected by the War on Drugs, which disproportionately incarcerated Black and Latinx people. He spent two years in prison for the offense. If his arrest had occurred today, court programs including drug treatment and mental health care might have been available to him. He might not have gone to prison.

After he finished his two-year sentence, because of his conviction, he was deported under the 1996 Illegal Immigration Act. I was just a baby then. Although he wasn’t supposed to, my father made the decision to come back to the United States to be a part of my life.

Even though my parents divorced when I was young, my dad has always seen me, bought me what I needed and been my biggest advocate. After work, when he is exhausted, he takes me to my soccer games and brings my siblings, ages 3 and 6, and family members to cheer me on. My dad is my biggest fan, and he inspires me. He does whatever he can for those he loves.

In 2017, he came in contact with the police. He was never charged, but that encounter resulted in his direct transfer from Santa Rita jail to immigration custody. He spent 17 months in immigration detention until we were able to get him released.

Current immigration proposals such as President Biden’s U.S. Citizenship Act, which would create a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented residents, would exclude thousands of people like my dad, who made mistakes long ago. We need federal immigration reforms such as the New Way Forward Act, which would reverse the mandatory deportation of immigrants who have served their time and restore judicial discretion.

California needs to pass AB 937, the CA VISION Act (Voiding Inequality and Seeking Inclusion for Our Immigrant Neighbors), which would protect people like my dad, who have served their sentences, from being transferred from jails and prisons directly into custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

My dad made a mistake a long time ago and served his time. He transformed his life and is a valuable person to our wider community. He should not be doubly punished with permanent separation from his family.

I can’t and don’t want to imagine my life without him. Will he be safe? Will he ever be allowed to come back?

Hulissa Aguilar, 15, of San Leandro, is a ninth-grade student at Arroyo High School. She is also a youth leader with the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, a statewide organization working to end the criminalization of people of color in our immigration and incarceration systems.

It is clear to me that what must be done for Hulissa and so many other children is to channel that spirit of communal responsibility, enlightenment, protection, and support that characterized the Black Church. We, somehow, must become a center where the disinherited can find a way forward and seek the rainbow and what is on the other side, clearer weather, some sunshine to warm cold places and energize the journey. This is not an impossible task. But is a needed step.

May we commitment ourselves this Father’s Day and Juneteenth to be communal fathers assuring our children of our love and allowing them to be children.

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