A New Image of Black Fatherhood [PHOTOS]

By Marcus Franklin Nov 19, 2014

This photo essay is part of Life Cycles of Inequity: A Colorlines Series on Black Men. In this installment, we explore and challenge the notion that black families face a crisis of fatherhood. The installment includes a dispatch from Baltimore, in which four dads challenge the easy assumption that all children of unwed mothers have absent fathers. 

In June of 2013 I started photographing black men and their children and created The Fatherhood Project, the online home for photos that capture them in ordinary moments. A single dad helping his daughter with math homework during a break at work. A dad teaching his daughter how to walk as they wait to see a doctor. A father and son chilling on a stoop.

Why photograph black men and their children? What’s extraordinary about these subjects? 

For starters, black men taking care of our children is, on some level, revolutionary–and a form of resistance to the legacies of laws and other tools used to hinder our ability to parent. During the trans-Atlantic slave trade, for example, fathers were routinely separated from their children as family members were sold. And currently, disproportionately and consistently high incarceration and unemployment rates for black men have made it difficult, if not impossible for many to parent. There’s also the disproportionately high rate of homicide among black men, whether by people in their own communities or at the hands of the state. My own father was murdered by a cop a couple of weeks before my 15th birthday.

As New York Times writer Brent Staples asked in a tweet this past Fathers’ Day: "Imagine yourself jailed on a low-level Rockefeller-era drug charge. Now a felon: denied a job, housing and the vote. How would you ‘Father’"

And yet, even in neighborhoods like my Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, home, beset with problems such as disinvestment and militaristic policing, you see black men parenting or at least making earnest efforts to do so. Some are parenting children who aren’t biologically related to them, too. You see them walking their children to school or picking them up; teaching a son or daughter the fundamentals of basketball on an outdoor court; or simply enjoying a morning breeze on the stoop with an infant son. Ordinary moments that crush white media narratives and stereotypes about black fathers.

I find something extraordinary in the ordinary moments captured in these photos, some of which I’m honored to share with Colorlines for its Life Cycles of Inequity series. I hope you will too.

You can explore Marcus Franklin’s full photo series on his Tumblr, "The Fatherhood Project." 



Kent prepares to embrace his daughter, Kennedy, who had recently turned 1 when I took this photo, as he encourages her to walk in the waiting area of the doctor’s office. Kennedy was about to get a routine checkup. Black dads are just as involved–and often more involved–with their children’s daily activities as fathers from other racial groups, a Centers for Disease Control study released in 2013 found.



Giovanni tries to get 9-month-old Ethan to laugh as they sit on their Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, stoop, enjoying a warm Sunday morning days before Giovanni and his wife planned to take Ethan to Giovanni’s native Cameroon.



Patrice helps his daughter Tiffiny, 12, with math homework during a break at his IT job. Patrice has been raising Tiffiny alone since her mother passed when his daughter was 6. According to the Pew Research Center, "Black fathers are the most likely to be heads of single father households–29 percent are."



stic.man of dead prez brings his son to the stage to play during a concert on Fathers’ Day in 2013 at Von King Park in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.



Father and daughter waiting for a bus.



Early photos like this one inspired me to keep photographing black men and their children and to create The Fatherhood Project to showcase the photos. Despite structural systems of inequality such as disproportionately high incarceration, unemployment and poverty rates in neighborhoods such as Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, there are men making earnest efforts to be there for their children.



Darryl, his fiancée, Linda, and their daughter Ava, 3, talk. Although Ava isn’t biologically related to Darryl, he considers her his daughter.



In the nearly three decades since a cop murdered my dad, ending our imperfect relationship, memories of our times together have grown hazy. But the image of me as an afroed toddler straddling one of his legs, leaning back against him, his left arm around me, is one that remains sharp, thanks to this photo. The photo is a record of sorts that, in that moment, he was there. And so are the other photos in this series.