A GLIMMER OF HOPE

There's no handbook on fatherhood. Much less a handbook on black fatherhood. As protests sweep across the nation in the fight for racial equality, a role that was already complex became all the more difficult and imperative. Black fathers are faced with new questions from their own children while navigating a wide range of emotions from anger to frustration, worry, grief and even hope in small doses. It’s a fine line to tread – instilling confidence and self-esteem into their children while preparing them and arming them for a world that won’t always see them for who they are.

Paris Lawson

By Paris Lawson | Digital Content Reporter | mailbag@okcthunder.com

IT’S VIRTUALLY IMPOSSIBLE to escape the harrowing images that have catalyzed protests across the globe. For Black fathers, the images and headlines ignited a sweeping gamut of emotions. Fear of the idea that could one day be your child. Frustration that the things you faced decades ago are still happening to this day. Anger that being a black man is cause enough for harm and mistreatment. Even then, there’s a glimmer of hope as awareness continues to grow on such a large scale.

Will Dawkins

“There’s a lot going on … a full range of emotions. You have the anger. You have the sadness, the discontent. I do feel positive that more people are talking about it and the word is being spread … but as you can imagine, there's a lot we're feeling right now.”

Will Dawkins, Thunder vice president of Identification and Intelligence and is the father of two: Trey, 3, and Journey, 2.


Michael Ashton

“It's like a vicious cycle, the grief cycle. You just can't get out of it … this can be so overwhelming because we're I've been the recipient of others trying to prepare for this moment, it's now on my shoulders to prepare my children for the same things. I'm glad to see that there is some action that seems to be moving in a positive direction, but it does not ease that burden of knowing that I need to prepare my children for this. It's tough. It's really tough.”

Michael Ashton, Thunder physical trainer and therapist and is the father of two: Sariah, 2, and Amari, who is 2 weeks old.


KJ Campbell

“Being a black father, when you see these things going on outside of your home, you relate to it instantly because that could be you as a father, or that could be you as a son, and to put yourself in that position that feeling is terrible.”

K.J. Campbell, Thunder graphics animator and editor and the father of one: Tre, 5.


Ade Amuda

“When I think my daughter may possibly encounter certain situations that I encountered when I grew up, I just immediately feel frustrated. I feel tired, fatigued that that may possibly be my daughter one day and it’s frightening.”

Ade Amuda, Thunder manager of Events and Entertainment and is the father of one: Emory, 5.


Children, the sponges that they are, pick up on everything. During the pandemic, the new environment raised questions like, “Why is everybody wearing a mask?” Now, as the fight for racial equality continues its momentum, the questions shift to “Why are people in the streets?” and “Why are people so mad?” The younger the child, the more difficult it is to answer these questions, but for a black father, the conversation can’t be avoided.


Will Dawkins
WILL

“You’ve got to kind of shield them at a certain point and let them know that things are happening, and keep it on a smaller level to where he feels reassured about it, but I also don't want to ignore those questions.”



PASSING THE LESSONS

Campbell remembered himself as a 12-year-old, sitting in his sister’s apartment crying. His father, his hero who he was named after, was pepper sprayed and handcuffed right in front of his eyes. For the life of him, Campbell couldn’t understand why the police officer was doing this to his dad. He would soon understand why.

In that moment, Campbell saw his dad’s courage. He saw the strength it took for him to maintain his composure and stand tall while facing blatant, unexplainable racism and police brutality. It’s that same courage and strength that he hopes to pass on to his 5-year-old son, who now carries his name.


KJ Campbell
K.J.

“In that moment my dad showed his strength as a man. He doesn't become irate, he doesn't launch into these officers, he doesn't start cursing him out or anything. He knows his position as a man, as a father and he shows me how to act in situations where you’re faced with such terrible adversity."


It’s an unfortunate reality that black fathers must prepare their children for – what to do when they encounter with a police officer. In some cases, like Campbell, that lesson was learned from first-hand experience. For others, it came in the form of “the talk” from their parents.


Mike Wilks

“Don't reach for anything. Have your license and registration on your dashboard before the cops even get up there, so that your hands are in plain view. Be respectful.”

Mike Wilks, Thunder assistant coach is the father of two: Isaiah, 12, and Josiah, 8.


Michael Ashton
MICHAEL


“Learn how to respond and not react.”


Just as Campbell learned from his father in the eighth grade, he wants to be able to be that same example to his son. It might not look like “the talk” at only 5, but the small lessons now grow into character as time goes on.


KJ Campbell
K.J.

“Even though Tre is 5 years old, I teach him the basics. Walk with your head up high. When you talk to people, try to look at them. When you talk to people, don’t mumble. Always have confidence within yourself. As he gets older, I want to continue to push that.”



HOLDING ON TO THE HOPE

Michael Cage was 6 when his mother burst into his bedroom in tears and buried her head in his lap.

Confused and concerned, he instinctively put his hands up and trembled before asking her what was wrong.

“They got him,” she said. “They killed MLK.”

The Cages lived in West Memphis, Ark., less than 10 miles from downtown Memphis, TN., where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Flash forward four years and Cage experienced yet another ripple effect of the racially charged South in the ’60s desegregation. He would have to switch from his all-black school only blocks from his house to an all-white school across town.

Cage’s personal experiences with landmark civil rights moments continued during his playing career in the NBA. In April of 1992, nearly 24 years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, Cage was playing for the Los Angeles Clippers when the city erupted in riots after four Los Angeles policemen were acquitted of beating Rodney King.

With these references in his rearview, Cage clings to some semblance of hope in the midst of the global protests he sees today. Things are a little different this time.


Michael Cage

“It's a bit of a blessing to see this evolution from where we were back in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and the ’90s. I see more people talking about race relations today than I have in the past 25 years and I think that's great. I think it's great that people are disgusted with what they're seeing and that people know that there are black people being executed on film. That's the thing that we didn't have before.”

Michael Cage, Thunder broadcast analyst is the father of three: Alexis, 24, Michael Jr., 23, and Sydney, 21.



For fathers of young children, it’s this hope they cling to for their young kids and their futures. Arming them with the foundation of confidence and self-esteem starts at as early as possible. For Dawkins in particular, a daily practice for his 2-year-old daughter is speaking affirmations to herself in the mirror. Phrases like, “I am brave,” and “I am going to win today.”


Will Dawkins
WILL

“With the kids, you always want them to have a better life and not have to experience the things we did, so that's where the hope comes in, instilling in them that there's power in their story and their background.”


Michael Ashton
MICHAEL

“What my parents have instilled in me is they hope that I continue to carry the torch and go further than what they have gone. That's what I'm trying to do for my children. "Equip them with what they need, so they can take this even further. Ensure that they're successful and show that they have the tools needed to succeed in this tough life regardless of the obstacles that they're going to have to overcome because of the color of their skin.”



While there’s no guidebook on navigating the tremendous responsibility of being a parent, it’s a role that comes with extreme reward – an unbreakable bond, a loyal sidekick, sunshine on a cloudy day.


Will Dawkins
WILL

“Being a parent it's tough. It's not easy, but it's also like awesome! It's the best part of your day when you come home. There's going to be enough people in this world that are going to try to tear you down; that I am not going to be one that's going to do anything like, that I'm only going to build you up.”


KJ Campbell
K.J.

“I just know that fatherhood is a place where I can be right there with my son to show him how to do these things to the best of his ability and to show him that you’re always going to have somebody in your corner to listen to you, to be there for you good or bad. To always help you out in any way that you need it.”



FOR MORE

'Reflections Within' | WATCH
'Thunder Voices: Black Fatherhood' | WATCH
'Juneteenth' | LISTEN



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