ROANOKE, Va. – Ryan Bell’s life revolves around two experiences: being a Black man in America and raising his two children.
“I have a little boy and a little girl, and it’s a balancing act,” Bell said. “How do we protect our children’s innocence while not shielding them from the rest of the world?”
Bell said he faces an additional challenge unknown to some fathers as the stereotype that Black fathers are subpar and absent from their children’s’ lives weighs on his mind every day.
“My sphere didn’t mirror the stereotypes I would hear,” Bell said. “I may have come in contact with more than 100 Black fathers in that time period, and every one of them is sick of that particular narrative.”
In response, Bell created Black Father Family, a group to unite and educate Black fathers in the Roanoke Valley.
“We should always be in the position to tell the positive stories of Black men and Black fathers,” Bell said. “We don’t accept the narrative. It’s not about changing the narrative now, but empowering the narrative that has always been there, that Black men are fathers.”
Bell’s mission takes many forms.
The Black Father Family Facebook page has shared several videos of Roanoke’s Black fathers giving parenting advice.
Bell also organized a Black Father Family Festival so fathers could talk about parenthood in person.
The attendees included Brandon McCall, who has four pre-teen children.
“Me, I grew up without a father, so to see other fathers supporting each other is amazing,” McCall said. “I love it.”
Bell said the group’s purpose is especially important with ongoing civil rights protests happening locally. He said it can be a challenge to explain these social issues to his children.
“My daughter is older, so she understands it a little bit better, but my son, in seeing some of these images, does have questions about it,” Bell said. “With everything going on in the world today, it’s a difficult time to be a Black father.”
Bell believes Black Father Family will make parenting easier for Roanoke’s Black fathers, while also showing all of Roanoke’s fathers the unique struggles they face.
“I hope it begins to offer them a peek into the world of Black fatherhood, with the trials and tribulations that Black fathers may deal with,” Bell said. I want them to understand Black men are present fathers, Black men enjoy fatherhood, and Black men are positive fathers and positive role models.”