Letter from an Angry Black Father

It’s Father’s Day weekend and I know that I shouldn’t be associating anger with this cherished Hallmark holiday.  But, I can’t help it…Father’s Day is a very reflective time for me.  And as a citizen of a state that can’t figure out how to educate children and a city where black folks get shot in broad daylight in front of elementary schools, any amount of reflection gets me heated.

I became a dad just 5 years ago and it changed me.  All of sudden I was responsible for this little, vulnerable person.  I have three children today.  And I confess, I think differently about everything.  

Public safety isn’t just a matter of policy and community policing strategies.  It is about what is going to happen to my kids as they walk to the park or ride their bikes or play outside my house (or inside of it for that matter).  So, you have to understand why when I keep getting news alerts about speeches from Senators and federal investigations and the President visiting with the families of the 48 victims of the tragic massacre that took place last week in Orlando, it bothers me.  It’s not because those lives aren’t valuable, they definitely are.  But, why are those 48 lives so much more important than the 266 mostly black and brown lives that have been lost to gun-violence on the streets of Chicago this year alone?  Where is the national outrage?   

And the education debates – yes the ones that I have been around practically all of my life as a student and then as a professional organizer and advocate – have become profoundly simple.  It all comes down to this: my children have to learn how to make a living and how to build a life in this crazy world.  It is as if every policy paper, every news story, every school recruitment brochure has managed to jump off of the page and present itself as a 19-year-old kid, baseball cap in hand, asking me for my daughter’s hand in marriage.  

I have some tough questions.  How are you going to pay for this with your unstable income?  What do you really know about my daughter’s personality? Her faith? Her Blackness and cultural history?  Can you keep her safe?  Do you really have what it takes to stay far enough out in front her powerful intellect to keep life fun and interesting?  

The answers that I’m getting leave me wondering if I should tell him to get out of my house or punch him in the mouth. It should be no wonder that my wife and I homeschool.

Having been a dad for a few years now, I have started to understand my children not just in the context my home, but in the context of the world that we are creating for them to inherit.  I don’t just think about my 3-year-old, I think about all of the 3-year-olds that he is going to have to work with, learn with and build communities with.  I’ve started to realize that in a sense all of the kids are mine.

I have found myself as part of this beleaguered fraternity called the Black Fatherhood.  And as a member of that fraternity I have a right to be pissed-off on Father’s Day.

38% of Black children live below the poverty line.

African Americans are 13% of the US total population, but almost 40% of the US prison population.

Over 75% of the victims of gun violence in Chicago are Black.

71% of the perpetrators of gun violence in Chicago are Black.

The dropout rate among Black male students in Chicago Public Schools is 41%.

I could go on, but I think you get the point.

But, I’m a Father.  And Father’s don’t just sit back and be mad.  Fathers do something about it.  So, this Father’s Day I’m pledging to do more.  I think it’s time for us as parents to take matters into our own hands.  Let the governor and the legislature and the mayor’s office and the police department and the school district try to figure out how to keep up with our ideas, our innovations and the changes we make.  
These are our kids, after all. Plus I’m tired of being so angry on Father’s Day.


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Chris Butler is first a husband and a dad. He has been involved across the spectrum of public engagement activities and has worked with a number of diverse constituencies in urban and suburban communities. He has also been involved in several political campaigns including his service as a youth and young adult coordinator for Barack Obama’s primary bid for U.S. Senate. Chris worked as deputy campaign manager and field director for A+ Illinois where he developed a strong, statewide field operation including over 500 organizations and 50,000 individuals around the state working to bring adequacy and equity to Illinois’ school funding system and as the director of advocacy and outreach at New Schools for Chicago, a leader in school reform in Chicago. Chris is a 2006 graduate of the Ministry Training Institute and holds a degree in civic and political engagement from Northeastern Illinois University.

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