A forum to celebrate fathers stirred up raw emotions as panelists and audience members alike talked candidly about issues related to fatherhood.
Friday night’s event, the second in David Manuel’s I Am series, was billed as an opportunity for an up-close and personal conversation with some of today’s most influential men.
In practice, the event at Greater Piney Grove Baptist Church in Southeast Atlanta was a rare chance for open and honest conversation about fathering as well as the unique obstacles facing some sectors of the community.
TheGrio’s Kunbi Tinuoye moderated the audience-driven discussion, which comprised five African-American male panelists from all walks of life. Despite the church setting, no subject was out of bounds.
Still, panelist members were blown away by the raw emotional display of vulnerability and sincere desire for attendees to exchange ideas and resources to facilitate emotional healing.
“I think it was great to see a transparency in black men showing emotions that a lot of people don’t think we have,” said panelist, Jorel Flynn a.k.a JFly, a Georgia-based drummer and founder of the youth-based non-profit How Big Is Your Dream?
“You couldn’t have scripted those impromptu emotions that were happening. I’m glad I was involved.”
Some of the topics discussed were the negative perception of black men, the benefits of having actively involved fathers, strategies for parents to establish more meaningful relationships with children and the value of positive male mentors.
All the panelists shared touching testimonies about becoming dads alongside sentimental tales about relationships with their own biological fathers.
Panelist Rob Calloway, a sports anchor for CBS Radio in Atlanta, said his close bond with his grandfather has also been a major influence in his life.
Still, one reoccurring theme the audience was keen to discuss was the impact of growing up without a father in the home.
“The stats are not favorable when we look at our children’s poor reading levels, the number of kids that are not graduating from high school and the number of youth that are in and out of our penal system,” said David Manuel, an arts center director and author, who designed the I Am series.
“Now, when you see that the majority of these kids are from fatherless homes, it is now a crisis.”
“The role men play in the lives of their children when they don’t live in the same household is always an emotional topic for those fathers, the mothers and for the children themselves,” said panelist Greg Gray in an interview with theGrio.
“The message I wanted to be able to convey is that while some children may find themselves in a fatherless home, that doesn’t mean they should have a fatherless life,” said Gray, CEO of Renaissance Unlimited and author of Dad from a Distance: How non-custodial fathers can still be fantastic Dads.
“It just got me thinking about issues that I’m dealing with myself, where I was raising other people’s kids [because of a second marriage] and not raising my own, “ said Rome Dorn, who attended the event.
“I had one of my siblings confront me about it, and she really had a problem with this. To this day, I haven’t been able to resolve this issue.”
The other panelists who attended were Mawuli Mel Davis, co-founder and partner at the Davis Bozeman Law Firm, and Keinon Johnson, the National Director Of Urban Promotions at Interscope Records.
Follow Kunbi Tinuoye on Twitter @Kunbiti.