ONE afternoon in 2007 a gun-touting 11-yearold attacked and shot Brandon Hay’s father, Brian, nine times while he was playing dominoes at a bar which he operated in Spanish Town. The young killer, who was murdered two weeks later by his cronies, never had a father around.
Fuelled by this incident and the need to personally be a good father, Hay, 32, decided to form the Black Daddies Club (BDC) to empower other black men to have a voice, to be better individuals and thus be better fathers.
Today BDC has seen over 4,000 black men passing through its doors to various events staged by the club, a database of 2,400 men and 800 Facebook members.
“The goal is to create a global network,” Hay said as he sat in the barber chair at Zack’s Barbers in the Pulse complex in New Kingston recently, shortly before his departure back to Canada where he resides.
“After my dad died I felt that I needed to do something in his memory,” said Hay, who started the club in Canada. “I realise that the same things happening in the black communities in Canada are the same things happening here in Jamaica,” he said. “So from that moment Black Daddies got birth out of my frustration and pain. I had to look at it internally. I also started it out of my own needs as a black father of three boys, Triston, 9, Julian, seven and Elijah five. I was just looking for space on how to be a father.”
Hay, who was born in Jamaica and emigrated to Toronto at age 10, grew up with his mother in a singleparent home and said that from adolescence and not having his father around, he struggled with how to become a man. Then at 21 and becoming a young father, a deeper need of how to be a good dad arose.
For Hay, the only positive black father that he knew was Bill Cosby from the television series The Cosby Show.
“That’s what I grew up on and I realised when I had my first kid that I was nowhere near Cliff Huxtable, and so I started asking myself how do I get to that level?”
Thus came the desire to create a space where other black fathers could come and talk about their challenges as well as share their victories as parents.
“One of the aim was to work with media and to offer a more positive image of black fathers since so far the media and the society by large portrayed black fathers as men with a whole bunch of babies and we don’t mind them,” Hay told the Sunday Observer. “And so the aim was to work with the black community on a whole and to take on issues affecting black men.”
Thus himself and four volunteers started the group.
“When we started we didn’t know if it was going to be needed. It was just a couple of my brethren who were fathers and I was the first of my friends who was a father so I couldn’t really talk to my friends. And groups like day care paternal programmes focused on moms, so even as I went to these programmes with my girlfriend, who is now my wife, I felt like an outsider and in these places were white women taught by white women and I go in there and I feel like I was taking up space. I felt there was not enough discussion aimed towards me and I felt I had to just take what I could and use,” he said.
But the club really started after Hay went to the community centre in his area where it was advertised that they had programmes for families. Assuming there was one geared towards fathers, he was disappointed to find programmes for mothers, grandparents and guardians, but nothing for fathers.
“When they told me that, I was livid, I felt kind of cheated because you had a family centre saying that as a father they had no programmes for you. It was like telling you that the role (fatherhood) was not important. But then after that I said, well this is an opportunity, let’s create something. But outside of my friends I didn’t know if it had any kind of relevance. So we partnered with small community groups, restaurants and hair salons and asked if they would open up the space for us to come in. We chose four different locations.”
While the turnout was good, 60 per cent were women and 40 per cent men.
“We felt defeated ‘cause we were doing this thing and we had more women than men,” Hay recalled. “So we decided to be a little bit more creative. So we said, why not try the barber shops because the barber shops in Toronto — and this may be a global thing — is one place where black men feel comfortable enough to express themselves. So it is not unusual to see us talk. So what we decided to do was to incorporate some kind of media, like a movie or a documentary that tied into the topic that we were talking about.”
And since males would come into the barber shops of various ages, this strategy was ideal.
“When everyone was watching a movie they would all pick up on the topic and talk about what they saw and injected their own experiences and so we found that the elders were learning and the young people were learning and men would come to the sessions.”
From there BDC branched out into high schools and prisons.
The prison programme was known as the HIP (Holistic Incarcerated Programme). After being brought into the prisons as a one-off event, BDC found itself in the prison for two months. These sessions were comprised of 16 young fathers at a time, with an approximate 13 being black.
“This was disturbing because the outside population of Toronto was not 80 per cent black, it was about 20 per cent,” Hay said. “So I asked myself: “Why are we 80 per cent black in the prisons?’ And there was a stat that came out recently that showed that in the last five years, the black inmates had risen to 50 per cent. So for the first phase, it was just doing programming but we realised that there was a lot more needed than just going inside the prisons and doing these sessions because one of the challenge was that these guys would come out and can’t find jobs, and then reconnect with the same people who were sort of responsible for getting them in prison in the first place.
“We saw a certain kind of cycle. So last year we decided that we can’t just keep doing programmes for the sake of doing programmes. One of the challenges for years was that when you look for stats for black fathers in Toronto, you could not find any. So we started a programme called Breaking Bread last year, that focused on fathers between the ages of 18 and 24, who may have had conflicts with the law; we started documenting our programmes from that point, just so we got the voices of these men.”
Hay said that since heading the BDC is not something he plans on doing for the rest of his life, plans have to be put in place to ensure easy transition to other young fathers to carry on the work.
“The reason Black Daddies is successful is because we focus on getting the voices that are not being heard. The reason I started Black Daddies Club was because I felt isolated. A majority of the black daddies I talk to feel isolated, feel they are going through issues that no one else goes through. That’s why this Breaking Bread programme was so successful. When they put themselves out there, they realise a lot of people on the table are going through similar issues so it’s like how do we create a community to help each other?”
Hay said that over the years he had come to realise that the issues facing black men were unique to black men and must be dealt with head on by black men themselves.
One such issue is the lack of mentors.
“You have guys who are 14 and they have guys who are 16,17 who are their mentors and these guys know no better, so it’s like the blind leading the blind,” Hay explained.
Some topics discussed in BDC meetings are discipline, relationships, knowing their rights as black men, and knowledge of self, which takes in ways of being a good father.
Hay, who was in Jamaica for a week to ‘recharge his batteries’ said he is now in the process of networking in Jamaica to see what programmes can best be fitted locally to impact fathers here.
He said he has been keeping the lines of communication open with entities like Fathers Inc, so that when the time is right the organisation of events will be smooth.
Hay said the things he has learnt in fatherhood are the simple things like the importance of spending time with his children.
“While I never grew with my father, he was there for school fees, and as the disciplinarian. But I also remember going to Coney Park with him and going to the beach, or just driving with him. It is just simply spending time with your kids.”
But, Hay said, persons need to stop looking at fathers as just being breadwinners as the roles of fathers were much more.
“It is super important for children to have their dads in their lives, even if they are not living at the home,” he said.