Being a parent requires a set of skills we’re forced to develop as they become needed. On top of providing financially and doing endless domestic work and errands, one must be a teacher, mentor and mediator.
For black fathers in America, there’s even more to the job. They teach their children the uncomfortable history of African Americans before they learn it in school, prepare them for irrational prejudice, warn them of police brutality and coach them through potential scenarios where they’ll encounter prejudice.
This education starts early, local fathers tell us.
Galen Flemons, a massage therapist from Plano, is the father to Kris, who is 10, Karter, 8, and Klaire, who is 4.
“I started talking to the kids about race, culture, history and racism very early,” he says. “It is something I have woven into just about every lesson.”
That guidance comes in many forms, Flemons says. Like the books he picks to read to his children every night.
“I try to give them the tools they need to understand how unfair life will be,” he says. “I sometimes show them the hard emotional examples, like scenes of slavery or current racial related death and abuse.”
He says that his children have yet to ask him hard questions, “because they don't understand the reality,” but that he’s already seen them being treated differently on account of their race.
His oldest son was being bullied by two boys in school, yet it was Flemons' son who got in trouble for the bullies' actions, Flemons says.
“When the teacher didn't step in I had to teach him how to maneuver them and the teaching staff,” he says of his son. “Since the other kids were smaller and not black, the staff let it go until Kris got emotional.”
Flemons has worked security before and has a towering presence. He worries that one day the height he passed on to his kids will be perceived as a threat.
“Like me, my boys are big, so I tell them they have to be prepared to be treated with less compassion,” he says. “I tell them in school they have to learn to outthink and behave better than their peers. Otherwise, they will find themselves in even more trouble for doing less.”
Flemons’ wife is from Zimbabwe, and he wants his children have a global view of racism — "A global perspective of blackness and the reaction from others,” he says — from their roots in the old South through modern times, worldwide.
“I tell them their nana, my mom, was raised in the segregated South,” he says. “I want them to know those people who were in mobs fighting integration are still out there. And they have kids and grandkids.”
Flemons says it’s important that black children understand history, so they can “find their role.”
“They should be aware and cautious but not terrified,” he says of his kids. “Otherwise they won't be ready to handle the many forms of racism.”
Because the Flemonses have police officers in the family, the subject of police brutality has come up naturally.
“I started grooming them on how to handle officers from day one,” Flemons says. “Because not every officer will want to help them.”
Flemons’ advice, he says, is that children will have to be “better trained than the officers they deal with.” And by that, he means maintaining a superior “situational and emotional awareness.”
“This starts with training them to spot police from a distance, before they see you,” he says he’s told his sons. “If you have to deal with them, try to keep your interactions in the most public, well-lit places. But in the end, you can end up on the wrong side of the contact with the officer because they have the power.”
Dealing with the police is also a subject that has come up for hip-hop producer and promoter Anthony “Oneself” Stanford, whose son is an 18-year-old who’s preparing to begin studying biochemistry at the University of North Texas in the fall.
In December 2018, Stanford says his son was visiting his cousins in Grand Prairie when the group of teens decided to walk around the neighborhood and begin to race.
“Before they could start the race, the Grand Prairie police pulled up and pulled guns out on all four of them,” Stanford says. “My son informed me his cousin wanted to run but he advised him not to, thank God. The GP police handcuffed them and said they fit the description of someone breaking into houses in the neighborhood.”
Stanford says that his son told him that of the four police officers, two had been “rough” with his cousins, while a female officer told him that had the kids been running when they arrived, they would have been shot.
“They continued to hold my son an hour in the cold after Grand Prairie’s curfew for minors and took my son to jail and charged him with breaking curfew," Stanford says of the incident.
The subject still comes up frequently, as Stanford says he often reminds his son of what to do when faced with police.
“I tell him that his mission is to make it home safe,” he says. “Taught him how to conduct himself during a traffic stop — both hands on the steering wheel with license and registration ready. Respect the police officer, but know your rights… I try to allow him the space and time to enjoy life but often remind him that he has to move different to survive in this country.”
This type of survival manual, Stanford says, is common core teaching for black fathers.
“An unfortunate reality for our African American children," he adds.
Patrick Iga is a pastor who lives in Allen with his wife, Jessica, and his sons Josiah (8) and Jonah (4). He says black kids often feel "unvalued."
He keeps the topic of racism “light” with his youngest, because of his age, but he’s already had hard conversations with his eldest, who caught wind of current protests and began to ask questions. Iga says this was “a perfect opportunity to talk.”
“I talked about how some in this country have treated people that look like him and I very badly only because of our skin color,” he says.
Iga says he asked his son what he knew about black history up to this point.
“And he said he knew about slavery and slaves were free, then about Martin Luther King Jr.,” Iga says. “So I went ahead and filled in some holes in his knowledge. Spoke to him about the language to look out for as well.”
His son asked questions about Iga’s childhood.
“He asked 'Were people mean to you as a kid?' because I was black,” he says of his son. “ I said yes, I lived in a small town from 7 to 14 years old where I didn't have anyone of the same color as me in a classroom until I moved to DFW. So I heard a lot of terrible things.
“Josiah apologized and said this is not fair,” Iga continues. “I asked what isn't fair, how people seem to treat black people and me? I said, for me, I had learned to forgive because I didn't want to end up being like the people who hurt me.“
Iga says that he's also spoken to his son about police brutality.
"Some of it he couldn't believe because it had to do with just the color of the skin," he says. "... You taught me to be kind to everyone no matter where they come from, so why do the police get to be mean? I explained that is what all the people in the news are on the streets for, to fight against the meanness of the police and to bring in change so some of these police officers can start being nice to the communities."
In instructing his youngest, Iga says, he finds a lack of representation in children’s characters.
“I wanna make sure that he first understood how Mommy and Daddy look at him how we value him and how we let him know that his color is beautiful,” he says. “We've noticed in this particular culture there's not a lot of cartoon characters, books, shows he can look up to in the sense of of black kids or black characters, so we want to make sure that he has a strong core and understanding that he is a strong, beautiful young black boy.”
Royce H., a truck driver from Dallas, has two sons, who are 22 and 23. He started talking to kids about racism when they were about about 8 years old. His kids are biracial, he says: "One is Latino and African American and one is Caucasian and Jewish and African American."
The conversation began with his oldest when kids "confronted him about his yarmulke."
"The n-word came out, and he didn’t understand," Royce says. "I had to explain to them that people just don’t act or think the way that I do or your mom does. Everybody is special."
He says one of his sons grew up in the "hood," and the other in the "'burbs." Yet they both have similar stories.
“They both faced some racism from somebody other than their races," Royce says. "They both learned about racial issues."
He says that black fathers have an additional burden when it comes to parental guidance.
“Most parents, they talk about the birds and the bees, driving safety," he says. "Black parents, we have an extra talk about the police. If you get pulled over, what do you do…”
Royce says that he instills in his sons the lessons passed down from his parents, who grew up in the ‘40s and ‘50s, “so they were there for everything.” They include: “Don’t stop being respectful. No big movements. If you didn’t do anything wrong, we’ll deal with it in court. Don’t fight the police. Respond in a thoughtful, respectful way and I'll take care of it for you.
"That's the talk I gave my sons," he says. "But it doesn’t really pan out that way because it could be anywhere and you get accosted or get murdered."
Royce says he was driving a few miles from his house a few years ago when he saw his son, who was then 18, had been pulled over. He says he was facedown on the concrete and police were trying to search his car. Royce argued that they couldn’t as they didn’t have a warrant and the police let him go.
He says his son was pulled over for speeding, but their subsequent actions were prompted by the fact that they found a young black kid driving a luxury SUV, which belonged to his mother.
His youngest is now in the military and was disappointed by President Donald Trump's recent use of troops and tear gas to dissipate a crowd of peaceful protesters who were in the way of a church near the White House where he stopped to take a photo with a Bible.
“He was kind of disgusted by the photo op,” Royce says of his son. “He joined the military to fight, not to be used for a prop.”
His youngest son has a daughter.
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“He doesn’t want her growing up seeing the same things that I’ve seen, that his grandparents have seen,” Royce says. “He wants to make a difference for his country.”
Royce says that widespread racism his children are witnessing today is similar to the experiences of previous generations.
"You’re seeing what your grandparents saw," he says he told his sons. "But that’s the world we live in — make sure you’re on the right side and not the wrong side of this. Make sure you’re not putting out what you see. Put out what’s in your heart. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
"Once you’re below ground, it’s over with," he continues. "While you’re here, make a difference."