31,375. That’s the number of members in Matt Prestbury’s closed Facebook group called Black Fathers.
Noting the lack of positive images of black fathers in the media and the lack of connections between himself and other dads, Matt started the group in 2009.
“I wanted to show that we are very much involved in our kids’ lives, much more so than people want to give us credit for,” he told Babble.
Matt knows a thing or two about fatherhood. He’s a 4th-grade assistant teacher in Howard County, Maryland and an apparel designer. He is also parenting four children. Breon is 18, Bryce is 17, Braylon is 13, and Laila is 11.
The goal of the group is for members to engage in an online support system. Matt said that Black Fathers provides a safe space for a range of discussions — on everything from the best age to allow a child to have a cell phone to legal guidance.
And, the group isn’t limited to parenting topics. Matt told Babble that his group “serves as an outlet for us to express all kinds of emotions in a safe space where we don’t allow them to be beat up on for feeling what they’re feeling, particularly if those feelings are those that we have typically considered as signs of weakness among men in the past. We change perceptions, change realities, and change lives.”
Matt’s group isn’t the only place where black men and fathers are being redefined, supported, affirmed, and uplifted. For example, this week’s Twitter trend, #BlackMenSmiling, highlights black men grinning, showcasing their love of family, culture, and career. Also, 100 Black Men of America is an organization that provides black youth with mentors, as well as educational courses in economic empowerment, health and wellness, and leadership development. Plus, there’s Doyin Richards, who founded the fatherhood brand Daddy Doin’ Work in 2012. His Instagram feed showcases photos of fathers caring for their children. (My own husband has been featured on the feed with a photo of him taking out my daughter’s cornrows.)
Matt shares that despite what the media portrays, all black fathers are not “deadbeats,” and his group “allow us to share our stories, shape the narrative around who we are, shatter false stereotypes about who we are.”
Unfortunately, many movies and television shows, which are powerful teachers, prefer the “deadbeat dad” stereotype – especially when it comes to families of color – instead of the attentive, present, involved fathers that Matt and so many of his members actually are. What is portrayed isn’t the reality for many families, yet the stereotypes live on. But Matt refuses to let someone else tell his story, or the stories of his group members.
“We can create vehicles of change, tell our own stories, and help strengthen one another in the process,” shared Matt. “This group has made me believe in my brothers — those I know personally and those I don’t — more than ever before in my life, and know how powerful we can be together. And how much we can use that power to raise up our families, our communities, and the world all around us.”
It’s no surprise that Matt’s group continues to rapidly grow. After all, the first line of the group description is, “Dedicated dads doing our thing.”
I think we all can, and should, get behind that.