By J Pamela Stills,
Special to the AFRO

Not more than three months after its last march in June that took place in Brooklyn, New York, The Dad Gang was marching again; this time in the District.  Dads from across the Washington, D.C. metro converged at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial to celebrate fatherhood. Their purpose?  To change the way the world views Black fatherhood and help defy the stereotype.  

The ‘March of Dads’ is a public demonstration to send the message that Black fathers are present and fatherhood does not have to be a solo act.  That there is a network for Black fathers to support each other in their parenting.  This sentiment is inscribed on the back of the marchers’ shirts, “No Dads Left Behind”.  

The Dad Gang was started by Sean Williams in 2017.  Williams’ encounter with a White woman who commented on him sticking around and being in his children’s lives, led him to take that interaction as a call to action.  From that interaction, Williams leaned on his fraternity brothers of Kappa Alpha Psi, which had new dads and seasoned dads, for advice.  Soon, The Dad Gang was born.  They started promoting The Dad Gang on social media to change the narrative around Black fathers and show that Black dads are active in their children’s lives.  The social media interactions quickly grew into a support system.  The common thread that ties everyone into The Dad Gang is fathers experiencing similar parenting situations in multiple cities.  In every city there will be a group of dads that will get together and that will be their dad gang.  Williams credits the support received from other dads in allowing him to become a better dad.  With two young kids as well as a college freshman, Williams says it feels amazing to be a dad.  He added “running The Dad Gang is my main job so it allows me to be a dad 24/7 … I’m always being a dad … It’s amazing.”

During his speech to the marchers, Williams encouraged them to view fatherhood as also a brotherhood.  The dads did not March alone.  There were babies as young as seven months old in strollers, tweens and teenagers, adult children as well as spouses and significant partners.  Williams stated “… the mothers really give us a chance to step forward while they quietly support behind us, which is amazing.” 

Johnny Bailey, who spoke with Williams on a panel about fatherhood at Google in 2019, was one of the dads attending the march with his first-born daughter Alexandria.  Bailey, a two-time girl-dad spoke to the other fathers saying they were gathered at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial to “prove that we are dad goals”.  Bailey, an only child, was raised by his grandmother.  Mr. Bailey spoke on the absence of his father saying “I remember the confusion and the sadness that came with that absence.  So, when I got older, I decided that I would build my family by design.  I decided that I would break that generational pattern.  Quite frankly, I decided that I would be a dope dad.”  Mr. Bailey wanted to remind the fathers that “no matter where you are on your dad journey, that your presence is needed; your example is needed; your guidance is needed.”

Edward Smith, III, COO, works to make The Dad Gang a fixture in communities.  The work that he and Sean Willaims is doing is not going unnoticed.  The Dad Gang has been recognized by notable celebrities as Will Smith and Oprah.  Smith reflected on how the March of Dads came to be.  It all started in New York as a dad meet up.  “… we invited dads and children for a stroll and play date to publicly raise awareness that Black Dads are active.  The response from both the dads and those who saw us made us realize we needed to bring this to other markets.”  In building community in the Washington, D.C. metro, The Dad Gang has hosted panel discussions in partnership with Spot D.C. and Google.  Smith gave a little insight into plans for future community engagement. “… [we] have plans to host dad lounges to give fathers an opportunity to connect and bond in a relax environment.”   

Smith was asked to describe how it feels being a dad to two year-old Edward Smith, IV.  “It’s amazing being a Dad, it’s the one job I can’t get fired from. With my father not being very present in my life, despite me having his name, it became of personal importance to change the trajectory of what it means to be a Dad with my own legacy.  Each day I worked hard not only to provide for him, but to be present and watch him grow. I LOVE it!”

The March of Dads is in its fourth year, with more planned marches in 2023.  Marches have already occurred in LA, New York, and Washington, D.C..  The Dad Gang will take the March of Dads to Atlanta on September 25 with an additional march planned for Houston, TX in October.  To support or partner with the organization, you can find them at The Dad Gang across social media platforms.  There is also a non-profit called Random Acts of Dadness, that provides tangible support to dads in need.  In addition, there are two books currently in print: Girl Dad and Boy Dad.