Of Fathers and Sons at San Francisco Juneteenth
San Francisco's Juneteenth returned to the Fillmore District after a few years in the downtown area where turnout was light. People were elated at the overflowing crowd on Saturday of the two day event. It is just wonderful to see North American Africans greeting each other with love and friendship hugs. We wonder what it would be like if we were truly free in our own land. But we know it would be wonderful to enjoy righteous brotherhood and sisterhood.
As we were vending books a fight suddenly broke out nearby, even though the police were present. Suddenly youth were crashing my table and books went everywhere. The police gang joined in by beating youth with their nightsticks. No arrests were made. I was informed two gangs entered the NO GO ZONE which was the Juneteenth area of Fillmore Street. I gathered my books off the ground, some damaged, and set up again.
For some reason police lined up behind me. I don't know why. A sergeant kept coming to my table to look at my book titles: In the Crazy House Called America, Wish I Could Tell You the Truth, I Am Oscar Grant, Who Killed Chauncey Bailey, Beyond Religion, toward Spirituality, Mythology of Pussy (all time bestseller, even at today's Juneteenth--people buy multiple copies because their friends steal it!It is a manhood and womanhood training manual, since renamed Mythology of Love). If I'd had enough copies of MOP I would have given them out freely, as I do at Academy of da Corner, 14th and Broadway, downtown Oakland. The boys say it "ups their game." And the girls say it empowers them, "I didn't know I had that much power." Dr. Nathan Hare calls this "biblotherapy."
I wanted to move but thought maybe the boyz in the hood would restrain themselves due to the police presence, although it didn't work initially. Clearly, the youth have no fear of the police. Soon another group of young men came up to the police to argue among themselves, as though the police weren't there or don't matter. Why would you argue gang bizness in front of the police? "Yeah, I'm go kill dat nigguh Dante next time he cross Fillmo'!"
Other than this argument, there was no further disturbance at my spot. Everything was cool and the afternoon ended with the soul singing group Best Intentions taking us down memory lane, and then jazzman Marcus Shelby closed out with that Hammond B3. At the other end of the festival, the youth stage was forced to close down due to violence.
This Father's Day, Black men need to think hard and long about the future of their children, especially their sons. The incident at Juneteenth was clear evidence the police are useless in stemming violence among our young men. The police are simply another gang and the youth know this, thus they do not fear them. But what if all the Black men standing around confronted the youth in a united manner. We think the boys would stop their madness, and yes, desire for attention. We know many if not most are from single family households, if not foster care, abandoned and neglected. I was guilty of this and was myself a victim of this.
But what if the men took charge of their sons in this public space. It would send a signal to the boys there is another authority in the hood that shall force them to act civilized. For this was a joyful day, a sacred day when our ancestors learned they were free, a year later. Most Juneteenth festivals refuse to have discussion, only celebration, but doing such prolongs ignorance and we see it expressed in youth behavior. Would youth act stupid if they understood the sacredness of the moment? Perhaps not, especially with a force of black men on post, e.g., the Elders Council. Black men, get organized!
No matter if you abandoned and neglected your children when they were young, even when they reach adulthood, they need your help and guidance, so reconnect with them, no matter how painful--and it may be painful, but so damn what! Life is often pain, joy and pain, as Frankie Beverly told us.
I grew up without a father around. I was lucky enough to be raised by a wonderful mother who, like so many heroic single mothers, never allowed my father's absence to be an excuse for me to slack off or not always do my best. But I often wonder what it would have been like if my father had a greater presence in my life.
So as a father of two young girls, I've tried hard to be a good dad. I haven't always been perfect – there have been times when work kept me away from my family too often, and most of the parenting duties fell to Michelle.
I know many other fathers face similar challenges. Whether you're a military dad returning from deployment or a father doing his best to make ends meet for his family in a tough economy, being a parent isn't easy.
That's why my Administration is kicking off the Year of Strong Fathers, Strong Families. We're joining with dads across the country to do something about father absence. And we're taking steps to offer men who want to be good fathers but are facing challenges in their lives a little extra support, while partnering with businesses to offer fun opportunities for fathers to spend time with their kids. For example, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Major League Baseball and the WNBA are offering discounts for fathers and their kids, and companies like Groupon and LivingSocial will be featuring special offers for activities fathers can do with their children.
You can learn more and sign the Fatherhood Pledge at Fatherhood.gov:
We know that every father has a personal responsibility to do right by their kids – to encourage them to turn off the video games and pick up a book; to teach them the difference between right and wrong; to show them through our own example the value in treating one another as we wish to be treated. And most of all, to play an active and engaged role in their lives.
But all of us have a stake in forging stronger bonds between fathers and their children. All of us can support those who are willing to step up and be father figures to those children growing up without a dad. And that's what the Year of Strong Fathers, Strong Families is all about.
So I hope the dads out there will take advantage of some of the opportunities Strong Fathers, Strong Families will offer. It's one way of saying thank you to those who are doing the most important job of all: playing a part in our children's lives.
Happy Father's Day.
President Barack Obama
P.S. Earlier this week, I did a TV interview and wrote an op-ed on this topic. You can see both on WhiteHouse.gov.