by Marcus Harrison Green
If America was seeking advice on a Father’s Day gift to the Black community this year, Sean Goode would adamantly ask for the returned presence of Black fathers over any ornate presents. A request to cancel the stubborn stereotype of belligerently absent Black fathers would rapidly follow.
Goode — in collaboration with Eddie Purpose of Progress Push and David Heppard of the Freedom Project — organized Saturday afternoon’s Black Fathers Matter rally and march in Tukwila, WA to elevate the struggles and stories of Black fathers removed from society by the criminal justice system.
Speaking from a raised platform to a crowd of about 250 masked fathers and their families in the parking lot of the Abu-Bakr Islamic Center of Washington, the rally’s starting point, the father of two laid out some sobering statistics.
“There are 800,000 parents currently incarcerated. And 92% of those parents are fathers … they’re uncles, they’re brothers, they’re cousins, they’re community leaders. They’re future organizers,” said Goode, voice carrying from the loudspeakers. “They are so much more than the numbers they’re limited to when they check inside of those doors and those systems of limitation. And as a result, one out of nine black children have a parent who’s incarcerated.”
Those statistics are a result of a long history of deliberate racial inequity pervasive in a criminal justice system where Black people are six times as likely to be incarcerated as their white counterparts, and one in three Black boys can expect to go to jail in his lifetime, according to the Sentencing Project’s report to the United Nations.
With national attention currently focused on how racial inequities disproportionately batter the Black community and protests continuing to rumble throughout the country in the wake of George Floyd’s death, Goode felt now was the appropriate time to highlight the impacts of the unjust removal of Black fathers from households, whatever the mechanism.
“We have an opportunity before us, South King County, to continue this mantra of Black Lives Matter, to lift up this truth that Black fathers matter, and to do so in a way that sustains beyond this moment but translates into a broader movement — a change. But we have to hold onto the intensity of now and carry that forward into tomorrow,” said Goode, the executive director of Choose 180.
Failure to sustain the current energy around social transformation would mean a few beautiful pictures and memes posted on Instagram accounts but little in the way of relief for Black and Brown people who have suffered for generations, according to Goode.
“When I look at my Black brothers, my Black fathers, I don’t see a problem. I see what’s possible as a community if we choose to invest in that possibility, cultivate that possibility, and develop that possibility. All these problem narratives that you hear about, that you see, will go away because in the space of hope, hate has no place to breathe,” said Goode.
This was a proclamation several speakers who followed Goode testified to, including Marcus White.
White, who was formerly incarcerated, shared his story of growing up without his father while enduring a harsh environment. The lack of guidance eventually led him down a path of criminality and resulted in his incarceration at Washington’s Monroe prison until 2015.
“It’s easy to say that we committed some crimes and put ourselves in harm’s way. And of course, we’ve got to take responsibility for that, for sure. But it’s got to be deeper than just individuals committing crime, and go into opportunities for education and knowledge,” said White.
His transformation to homeowner and dutiful father came about due to the targeted support, uplift, guidance, and education he received from community members inside and outside of prison. Resources he said the system deliberately denied him and too many others — ones he wants ensured for the next generation.
“Had I known, maybe I would have made better decisions. But it’s my responsibility to teach my son about these generational curses that he’s been born into. Let’s continue to uplift our communities by pouring into the next generation of Black Kings and Queens,” said White, who pointed to his infant son Tupac resting in a stroller.
He and several speakers expressed the need for elected officials to enact policy changes and municipal budget reallocations to provide equitable resources to Black communities.
Cynthia Delostrinos Johnson, the first woman of color elected to Tukwila City Council, agrees that more can and should be done policywise and that people of all walks of life should recognize the struggles faced by Black fathers as their own.
“There is so much negativity about Black fathers. And what I hope people see is not the fight for Black lives just being for Black people, but a fight for all of us. As I look around at this rally, there are people of all races and creeds, and that’s great. I hope when people see me as a Filipino walking down the street in my Black Lives Matter shirt they can say we need to work in coordination,” says Johnson, who attended Saturday’s March with her two children and husband James, who is Black.
With a flurry of marches and protests organized around the trauma of Black death, Johnson and event organizers said Saturday was an important moment to assemble around the wonderful things transpiring in the Black community, with Black fathers being a key to that.
“I got a lot of praise back in the day for being a single father, and I’m glad we’re celebrating fatherhood today, but it’s my job. What’s more important is that we keep movements like this going. We gotta get up off the couch and multiply it. You see all the people here. We have everything we need.” said Sonu Goode, a father of two and Sean’s brother.
After the final speaker wrapped up, and with police blocking off the mile march route from traffic down Tukwila-International Blvd, Sean Goode instructed fathers to get behind a Black Fathers Matter banner. Their families were to join alongside them behind a Our Families Matter banner.
“In spite of all that’s systemically hindering the Black community, here we are. We’re showing Black life matters, Black fathers matter, Black life matters. We’re envisioning us beyond our suffering. And it’s that success that we live into on a daily basis.”
Fathers linked with their families, and with that, the march was on.
Featured image: Bri’Jon Asa-Phillips