As Naisha Bailey-Johnson scrolled through her social media feeds she noticed nearly every photograph or video on her timelines were unfavorable shots of African American men. She saw mugshots, stills of boys flashing guns and the lasting images of unarmed men killed at the hands of police.
Alarmed at what she saw, Bailey-Johnson, 33, decided to start a Black father’s photography project to depict that Black men are more than the negative glimpses that are portrayed in mass media.
“I'm taking photos to show the positive images of them being with the children, nurturing their kids, being providers, being their guiding light,” said Bailey-Johnson, who owns YoSnap Photo Booth and Photography.
African American fathers have long been stereotyped as being absent in their children’s lives. But a recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention report on father-child involvement, found that Black fathers are more involved than Latino, white and other fathers.
Bailey-Johnson wants her photography project to uplift Black people. She hopes to photograph 20 Black men who have never taken a professional photo shoot with their children.
“I hope that it [the images] would humanize the Black male right now,” she said. “There's power in photography. We are in the times where we believe what we see, so if we see positive images, hopefully it will just change the mindset of how people feel about the Black community and Black men in general.”
Michael Gerdine, Business Owner and Coach
When people see Michael Gerdine, 32, he is often surrounded by children. He coaches football and basketball at St. Mary’s High School, and he is also a little league coach at Mathews-Dickey Boys’ & Girls’. Gerdine is the father of two, but he said he is a father figure to many children in the area. He enjoys spending time playing football with his 13-year-old son and entertaining his 3-year-old daughter in the park. Gerdine, who grew up in north St. Louis, uses his position as a coach to teach children that Black men are present and are important figures in the community.
Gerdine is aware of the influence he has on his children and the ones he coaches. He said if the media only portrays Black men as drug dealers and gang members, then people will never get to see the Black doctors, lawyers, business men, postal workers, plumbers and other men who are in the community and setting a strong example for Black children.
“They portray Black fathers in a bad light. It's frustrating, but at the same time, I feel like if we continue to see more fathers doing positive things, then the negative stigma will go away.”
Gerdine said the stereotype that affects him the most is that Black men are absent fathers. “I don't even associate with a man if he's a father who didn't take care of kids. I got a group of friends — about 10 to 12 of us — and all of us are fathers and everybody's active in their children’s lives.”
Chad Roundtree, Real Estate Investor
Chad Roundtree, 37, remembers his father taking him to the park and shopping as a child, which are now things he enjoys doing with his 4-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter. When Roundtree and his wife are not parenting together, he enjoys taking his children on outdoor adventures such as fishing. He said it’s important for white people to see Black men as family men and not threats.
For Roundtree, being a dad is delightful, but is not always a pleasant experience. Occasionally, he meets white people who would commend him for gracefully taking care of both of his children while in public. He said if people saw more portraits or videos of Black fathers at home, then more people will know how much they are involved in their children’s lives.
Some stereotypes Roundtree hopes to break with positive images of Black men are the notions that many are violent, criminals and dependent on government assistance. He said many Black men lead loving and caring lives.
Joshua Johnson, Public Safety Officer
For Joshua Johnson, being a father is his greatest accomplishment. However, the 31-year-old St. Louis University public safety officer said being a Black dad is complicated because “you have the duality of being a dad, but then you also have to keep in consideration all of the things that black people or people of color are faced with within this country and add those things to your parenting lessons.”
Johnson likes to take his 5-year-old daughter on dinner dates to various restaurants. He uses the time to connect with her and talk to her about life. He recently took his daughter to a Black Lives Matter protest in the area. Johnson said it was one of his favorite outings with her, because he used the moment to teach her about Black history and the importance of standing up for her rights.
Johnson created the social platform, Dope Dad, to dispel negative narratives of Black men. Dope Dad showcases the relationship between Black fathers and their children through imagery and it provides support. “There's so much more than the small glimpses of Black men that are shown. We are fathers. We are professionals. We are family men.”
As more positive images of Black fathers flood social media, Johnson hopes people will see Black men for who they are. “Go experience someone. If you see a Black man, then have a conversation with them and create a relationship, so that you can create your own feelings and your own viewpoint, instead of always taking someone else's.”
Men who are interested in the photo project should submit a brief bio statement and a message about why fatherhood is important. Bailey-Johnson plans to release the photos at the end of the summer via social media and in a gallery setting.
Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist
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