By Nia Simone McLeod
The stereotype of absent fathers within the black community is a stalemate thought that lingers no matter what state you go to across the United States. This negative connotation is in some ways bred through a smidge of truth when one looks at various statistics. But, in that same breath, this stereotype neglects millions within the community who not only shun that stereotype but find pride in their role as a father and the family structure that they are a part of.
In 2015, The New York Times reported nationally that there are 1.5 million missing black men. This study references statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and states “For every 100 black women not in jail, there are only 83 black men. The remaining men, 1.5 million of them, are in a sense considered missing.” The gap is said to be driven mostly through incarceration and early death.
But, as New York Times writer Charles M. Blow, mentioned in his opinion piece Black Dads are Doing the Best of All, those statistics inaccurately represent the black community and neglect millions of black fathers nationwide who are present within their children’s lives. He refers to author and journalist Josh Levs’ book All In and refers to a statistic that does not add fodder to the stereotype: most black fathers in America live with their children. “There are about 2.5 million black fathers living with their children and about 1.7 million living apart from them.” Also, Blow references another CDC study in his opinion piece that shows when black fathers are present in their children’s lives, they do more than white and Hispanic fathers.
Within Virginia, there is a nonprofit that not only focuses on shattering those debilitating stereotypes but features unsung heroes within the black community who have made it their goal to help others strengthen the relationships that they have in their own lives.
The Relationship Foundation of Virginia is a nonprofit that is concentrated on revitalizing the meaning of family and pouring that knowledge back into the community. The three main groups their programming is specialized around are the youth, couples, and fathers. The display of programming available is incredibly unique and provides a safe space for members of the community to express their feelings and learn about important values.
Specifically surrounding fatherhood, RFVA’s programming is unmatched in not only its diversity but its authenticity. The lineup features a boot camp for new dads, a program linking incarcerated fathers with their children, and a Christmas-themed event meant to highlight dads across the community, which concludes with a luxurious luncheon at the Jefferson Hotel. These programs are teaching men, no matter what situation life may have brought to them, how to be a good father to their children.
With such a large goal of strengthening relationships throughout the Virginia community, the RFVA thrives through black community members who are passionate about these issues and, in turn, take pride in their positions as strong-willed, family-valued people. They come from various career paths stretching from human resources to the media and utilize their strengths in order to reach one common goal: to help the community thrive.
But, they not only help spread the word and raise funds for the programs that they promote, they also attend the programs themselves in an effort to learn and grow as individuals.
Jerald Williams, the Relationship Committee Chair, recalls going to a date night with his wife, where they ended up doing couples’ CrossFit, “The date nights are really good because you get to meet a lot of different people. It’s different because you’re forcing yourself to be in a place, and at the same time, choosing to open up to the environment that’s being set.” Williams works in two separate fields as the Director of Operations for Arete Consulting Group and President of Williams World Wide Properties LLC.
Amie Carter, the Chair of Board, found her way to RFVA through a marriage conference, where she says that the event had a grand impact on her relationship, “We had been able to sit with couples that were together for a variety of years. We were newlyweds, but some couples had been together for 30 to 40 years. We learned about the importance of investing in your marriage.” Carter says, “It taught us no matter how far you are on this journey, there’s nothing wrong with going to a conference and learning things that can help you improve because you can always make things better.” Along with contributing to RFVA, Carter is the Executive Media Director at Mt. Gilead Full Gospel International Ministries and a Freelance TV Host at ABC 8.
All of these community members had been a part of various panels that RFVA hosts where they open themselves up to questions from youth throughout the community about various topics such as relationships, domestic violence, and sexuality.
Sam Anderson, a Board Member, saw great value in passing down his knowledge to younger individuals, “I wish I had that when I was in school, the opportunity to talk to an adult and ask them literally anything you wanted. It was great to see how thought processes have changed and to be able to give them insight through things that we learned.”
He then continued about how being a part of RFVA helped him grow as not only a husband but a future father, “There’s a lot to take away from these events because you’re always looking for ways to improve upon yourself. It’s a natural reaction that you’ll grow as a person when you’re attached to an organization like this.” When he’s not working at RFVA, he’s diving his passion into his own businesses as a serial entrepreneur.
Jay Grant, the Vice Chair of Board, says that RFVA at its core is about strengthening the community and the relationships that bind us all together as people. “When you turn on the news, everything is about tearing people apart. One of the great things about this organization is when you come to these events, people of all races and all ages come together. I think that’s what community’s all about, and the Relationship Foundation’s got that.” Grant works towards equality throughout his work life as the Deputy Director of Community Development at the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.
Whether you’re looking to learn how to communicate better with your spouse or wanting to learn the ins and outs of fatherhood, The Relationship Foundation of Virginia is a stellar place full of resources teaching the community about what really matters. This nonprofit is working day in and day out to lower the statistics of fatherlessness and reaching out to help those within the community who need not only knowledge but recognition. The passion and transformation of the community members involved is even more evidence to the impact that the RFVA makes and the potential for the non-profit to expand and help even more individuals in the future.
If you’re interested in learning more about The Relationship Foundation of Virginia’s programs or volunteering yourself, you can learn more info here. You can also follow them throughout social media on Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube.