Stony Brook University is the location creating the scene for Howard Buford and Delphine Fawundu to link. After seeing each other a few times around campus, one Valentine’s Day he tracked her down in the college phone book. Love pursued them. Eventually their first son, Amal, was born. The couple married and had two more boys, Che and Kofi.
“We’re a collection of individuals who truly care for each other,” says the New York City educator, referring to his family. Although the couple has been separated a few years, their sons feel no loss of love. The spirit of family is warm, prevalent and unified.
Co-parenting for the Fawundu Bufords means being on the same page. Living blocks apart in Brooklyn, “Howard and I have an understanding of how we want to raise our kids,” says Delphine. “We’re always in communication.” The teacher and professional photographer continues: “They have their things that are special at Daddy’s house and things that are special at my house. They’ve never complained about it.”
“The boys are the constant,” affirms Howard. “How we parent hasn’t changed. Delphine and I have a good relationship. Most importantly, we have an understanding of what’s healthy for the boys.” When they first split, there was an adjustment period, however. “I think it was rougher on the adults,” he offers. “For the boys, we kept it as seamless as possible.”
Raising three sons is less challenging, more fun for Fawundu. Part of her enjoyment is teaching her kids to have a voice. A big mistake she sees in parenting is not allowing children to express their feelings. “It’s really important to me that my kids say what’s on their mind. My children have a space to speak.” Empowered in that liberating space, both Delphine and Howard give their sons the tools to think critically and respond thoughtfully.
A well-traveled photographer, Delphine’s portfolio is a collection of Africana, from Sierra Leone to hip-hop’s most legendary MCs to nudes of women of color to what she calls most treasured assignment, photographing Assata Shakur in Cuba for Honey magazine. “That assignment was a life-changing experience for me,” she says. “A lot of my work has to do with social issues. I feel like it’s my duty to represent my people in a realistic, honest way. Our image has been tainted. The way I combat that is to put images out there that do the opposite.”
Expounding, she states, “Howard and I make a concerted effort to not have the media raise our children, not have music raise our children. However, we have it to the point where we’ve instilled so much knowledge in them that when they are faced with these images—any image—they can look at it critically and decide how they’re going take it into their system.”
Delphine’s mission as a parent is to assure that her sons are conscious of their significance. “I want my sons to grow up knowing that this world is for them,” she says. “Knowing who you are— individually, your social history, cultural history—at a very young age influences they way you perceive yourself in the world.”
The Fawundu Bufords’ three sons are spirited young men who express their insights as readily as their talents. (Che Buford plays his violin in the background of this very interview.) Nine-year-old Kofi’s mom describes her young poet as rugged, a rebel. Although inspired by his brothers, he possesses his own opinion. Kofi says, “My mom is fun. She exposes me to things like photography and education. My dad, I like him too. He takes us to the movies and cooks good food.”
What’s his favorite dish at Howard’s house? “He calls it ‘Daddy’s Special.’ ”
The breezy exchange took a turn when asked the greatest thing about being the little brother; his silence was palpable. OK, rephrase. Do you like being a little brother? “Nope.” Kofi explains that he’d basically like to do what he wants, and looks forward to the day when he has the freedom to go outside and play basketball, whether his brothers want to or not. (Quietly, he wants them to want to.)
Howard calls his middle son one of the most unique people he’s ever met in his life. “Che has always had this strong personality,” Howard says. “He’s uncompromising, and I think it’s so beautiful that he’s that secure in who he is.”
Che is so confident, in fact, that he posted a YouTube video of himself playing “Crystallize,” a song by one of his favorite musicians, Lindsey Stirling. When the video was put on Twitter, Stirling herself retweeted the video, posting: Che this is the best version of my song I’ve heard so far. Delphine laughs as she thinks about it. “Che couldn’t sleep that night. I have never seen my son act like that. He was on fire for a whole week!” Check the video, it’s impressive.
Showing off her son’s skills to a musician friend one day, she played Che’s video. He immediately referred Delphine to a program at the Mozart School. Che auditioned and was accepted. When the prestigious violin instructors asked where he’d been trained, they were shocked by the truth. Delphine says, “Really, I bought Che a violin. He kept asking for it, and he taught himself to play watching YouTube videos, believe it or not.” The self-taught eighth grader has been teaching himself the violin for the last four years.
Howard says of his oldest, “I think the thoughts and ideas in his head are out this world.” Amal (16) is a pensive young man, an avid writer and reader. “Amal isn’t shy. But he’s not a very talkative person.” Regarding him highly, his father conveys, “All of Amal’s words mean so much to me because it doesn’t seem like he wastes any.”
The lessons learned from big brother status are not missed on this astute thinker. “When you have leadership positions in school, for example, you already have the experience of dealing with people who are younger,” says Amal. The budding novelist and short story writer respects the gifts of the individuals in his brotherhood as well the eccentricities.
“We all have our quirks,” he says. “Che is unique and a hardworking person. Kofi, I’ve noticed, is very independent. He wants to be self-sufficient. He has the highest temper, but he’s also nice and genuine.” Amal states thankfully, “My dad is very supportive of everything we do. He never tells us that we can’t do something. My mom is the same way. She’s very proactive.”
Delphine and Howard are leaving an impression on their kids of great character, respect, unconditional love and stability—particularly in terms of family and relationships. Amal concludes, “My mom and dad live separately, [but] even though they do, it’s not like I belong in two different worlds. We’re still very much together. That’s helpful, because I don’t have to feel a particular way with one parent or with my brothers. I feel like I can tell them anything I need to. I like the way that we still have a strong family bond.”
And thus, the Fawundu Buford tribe is cool and collected.
The Coolest Black Family in America is an EBONY.com original series: an ongoing look at the intricacies, layers and compelling beauty of African-American family life. Of course, The Coolest Black Family is not one family but many. In fact, we’ve found that there are as many Coolest Black Families as there are versions of cool. Also consider: family doesn't always mean mother + father + kids. What defines family is connected hearts and supported souls. Ride with us weekly as we crisscross the country in search of kinfolk whose cool is so palpable and real, it comes second only to their love. Think your cool fam qualifies? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org (with Coolest Black Family in the subject line)!
Joicelyn Dingle travels to find the Coolest Black Family in America exclusively for EBONY.com. She splits her time between Savannah and Brooklyn. She is currently completing a documentary on the making of Honey magazine and the 1990s urban publishing era. Friend her on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter @editorialgenius.