By Lisa Snowden-McCray, Special to the AFRO
Matt Prestbury says when he started gathering together groups of Black fathers, it was because he was a newly-single dad, looking for other people like him.
“I began to look around for outlets and opportunities to bring fathers together, and I began to create them because there wasn’t really much that existed at the time,” he tells the AFRO.
Since then, what began as informal hangouts at local parks and after school, has developed into two Facebook groups, each boasting thousands of followers (one, called Black Fathers, is just for Black fathers, the other, Black Fathers and Company, is for everyone else). He’s been profiled on the Steve Harvey Show, on Good Morning America, and on BET, among other places. And he’s still looking to do more. Prestbury says Black fathers don’t often get the representation and recognition that they deserve – and that’s important.
“One thing that really stuck out to me was the lack of representation of fathers in the media. We really weren’t represented,” he says. “And even outside of the media, just in life in general, how we are so often overlooked, looked through, looked past and that sort of thing. So it really became a vision of mine — not only to work to bring together fathers in the physical, in social activities and stuff like that — but also to use this medium to highlight and showcase fathers.”
Since he started the Facebook group in 2009, Prestbury, a Baltimore based teacher, says he’s learned a lot about Black fatherhood.
“A large number of fathers who are in the situation that I was in, who are raising children alone, that’s something I really didn’t know existed to a large degree,” he says. He also says the work he’s done reinforces what he already knew: that Black fathers are passionate and dedicated to their children.
“I knew how I was, and I knew I couldn’t be the only one, but to really have it confirmed in my mind by the number of people who have joined the groups who have come to events and do different things…the dedication and the passion that fathers have. Especially fathers who are really fighting to be in their children’s lives.”
Personally, he’s learned some things, too.
“I guess something that I’ve learned personally being a father and raising my children is really something that we talked about yesterday in the group and that’s how to help them have a voice and understand time, place, and tone. Because really a lot of times as Black parents, we come from parents who believe that children should be seen but not heard and that sort of thing,” he says. “As we see times changing it’s learning how to find that balance to allow them to express themselves, stand up for themselves, but do it in a respectful manner. So not to stifle them, but also not to give ridiculous free range so they are just running the show.”
Prestbury’s children are older now – they are 19, 17, 13 and 11—and Prestbury says he’s learning the way that the parent-child relationship changes over time. They still need you, he says, but in different ways. And communication is key.
“So you start off in the beginning when they’re born you’re very hands on,” he says. “And as they get older, you kinda, at least personally, kind of step back and give them more freedom and leeway as they grow. But what I’ve found is as they…get to that age when they are in their later years of high school and entering college, if you have built that kind of relationship when you really have an open relationship, they start to get into they come back to you and want to talk about having a girlfriend or even being sexually active.”
The next step for the group is turning it into a nonprofit. Prestbury says he wants to do as much as he can to help and uplift Black dads. That includes educating them, offering workshops and other resources, and giving them platforms on which to speak for themselves.
“The idea is to extend that out and eventually have chapters throughout the country and even possibly in other countries. We have members all over the world,” he says. “I’ve written a children’s book, I plan on writing another one. Anything that we can do to use that to help fathers, Black men in particular, to get their message out and tell the truth about who they are and then also to connect with other organizations that provide, not only providing resources but providing information and education for fathers to make things better on a whole level.”