Since President Barack Obama’s election as the first African-American president of the United States in 2008, he’s become a dream personified of many things—from the top example for young African-American children, particularly boys, who desire to become the leader of the free world to a commander-in-chief who balances his duties with his personal life to a dedicated and publicly affectionate husband. Most of his admiration comes from what he says is his most important job as father to his two daughters, Malia and Sasha.
Kenrya Rankin Naasel, writer and editor, explores the state of African-American fatherhood during this never-before-seen era of an African-American president and father in Bet on Black: The Celebration of Fatherhood in the Age of Barack Obama. Inspired by a speech given about his deep commitments to rearing his daughters and breaking the cycle of absenteeism started by his own father, the anthology of personal essays is not a contrast to Obama’s shining example, but a celebration of fatherhood and its effects on the writers’ lives and relationships.
“I didn't want to read another treatise about why they are terrible, or be bombarded with statistics that prove they don't stick around,” Naasel, who was raised by a single father, says. “Instead, I wanted to share stories like my own that proved that Black men are capable of not only standing by their offspring, but helping them thrive as well.”
Twenty notable women writers, such as Karen Good Marable, Corynne L. Corbett, Hillary Crosley and Harriette Cole and share their stories about the impact their fathers and step-fathers have had on their lives, some funny, others insightful or tear-jerking. More than write love letters to their fathers, they each examine their own relationships, while many imperfect, all have been nurturing and fulfilling. Each writer tackles climatic moments in their relationships with their fathers that showed memorable examples of fatherhood in their own way, including overcoming absenteeism, fathering while incarcerated, remarrying and maternal death.
Contributor Hillary Crosley discusses the effects of her father’s death in her essay. She has no memory of him at all, even asking her family members why they were crying en route to his burial. “I contributed to Bet On Black for an opportunity to share what it feels like to live in his shadow,” she says, “and my hope that he's looking down and smiling.”
The call for essay submission in 2008 flourished into a full-on social media campaign via Kickstarter. With more than 160 backers, the project became a reality. Only a few days to remain reach the backing goal on October 11, yet the anthology has already been publicly endorsed by social justice advocate and father, Jeff Johnson and award-winning author, Ayana Byrd.
Battling an extreme negative stereotype of black fathers, Naasel hopes Bet on Black will challenge our thoughts on the fatherhood and the black family structure, and in turn, change the dialogue we engage in with ourselves and others.
“Black folks transcend stereotypes daily. I think we can all benefit from hearing each others' stories and learning each others' lessons.”
Bet on Black is scheduled for publication this month, but the project must be backed on Kickstarter to make sure it’s available in independent and large chain book retailers. To learn more about Bet on Black and the book's contributors, click here.