Imagine a man struggling to connect with his wife. He asks for help from an online community of dads and 175 of them get together and help him write the letter. This is what can happen when dads work together and is a great example of the support provided by the Dope Black Dads community (Did the letter have the desired effect? Keep reading to find out).
My introduction to Dope Black Dads came when I attended the UK launch of the 2019 State of the World’s Fathers report. One of the speakers at the launch was Marvyn Harrison, the group’s founder.
As the name suggests, Dope Black Dads exists to support black fathers and promote positive images of dads from black communities. Marvyn’s speech focused on the successes of his organisation and how engaged and supportive the community is.
It’s worth noting that it is a very broad community. While established in London, it operates in the UK, US, South Africa and beyond.
Marvyn’s words were uplifting and I wanted to find out more. I was delighted when he agreed to take part in a Q&A. Here’s what Marvyn has to say about Dope Black Dads,
Easy question first. Can you please explain what Dope Black Dads is all about?
Dope Black Dads is a digital safe space for black fathers to discuss their lived experience as a black father and black man in their respective countries. We have groups covering West, South East, Midlands and North of England as well as groups in South Africa and New York.
What particular challenges do you think non-white dads face?
I think all dads face the same challenges but a black father specifically has to consider the long term effects of racism, colonialism and slavery and how that effects our socio-economical standing specifically in the US and UK. Our South African group has a very different set of problems but some do cross over.
Your website says there aren’t enough positive discussions about black fathers. What negative stereotypes and negative role models are you trying to consign to history?
I think the most common misconception is around absenteeism which is applicable to all fathers when in fact black fathers spent the most time with their children under 5, more than any other race. Where there is a problem is, between 5-12 years old that the number decreases dramatically which signifies that the father is leaving the home at this time. We need to ask the question why at that point? We have seen some evidence which connects back to my earlier point about legacy of slavery, colonisation and micro-aggressions.
Some people might question what challenges black fathers face that white fathers don’t, or even say that your organisation should be a part of one of the other fatherhood organisations. How would you respond to that?
We do partner with any and all organisations all the time, we don’t believe in being an island. We just want better outcomes for black families which only black families will bother to challenge and work on.
How rude of me. I’ve not even asked about your own family. Can you tell us a bit about them?
I am married (6 years) and I have 2 kids (Blake 3 and Ocean 1)
There’s a story you told at the launch of the State of the World’s Fathers Report about a dad who was struggling to connect with his wife and so called on the Dope Black Dad network for support. I felt it showed that despite all the talk of toxic masculinity, men can be incredibly caring. I can’t do the story justice. For the benefit of my readers, can you please re-tell the story here.
One of our key objectives is how to heal families and one of the dads in one of our sessions identified that he and his wife had not had time to talk as much since their child came along. Now the child was a toddler, he wanted to speak to her without filter to prompt a deeper conversation about how they could prioritise their marriage. He posted a draft and we all contributed to ensure the language and tone was appropriate and ultimately that evening they stayed up until 2am talking and it kick-started a very good spell for them, which any couple knows is very important and at times difficult to do.
Dope Black dads isn’t just an online thing. You have a podcast and events where guys meet up. Can you tell us a bit about them?
We realised that we were gathering so much rich information around being a black father and man that we wanted to have the longer form conversation to really unpack the subjects in full, the black experiences can’t fit into a headline or sentence so it’s great that we can express ourslelves in full. We release our podcast every Sunday at 9am on Spotify, Apple, Google Podcasts and Soundcloud.
Project Heal is a collective healing event we run monthly and Family Day is a chance for all families across Britain to come together and have fun with our kids.
What’s been the organisation’s biggest success to date, do you feel?
Healing fathers and families is by far the best thing, everything else has been great but bonding with men and hearing their complex stories has restored my faith in people beyond measure.
Dope Black Dads has made a number of recordings focusing on fatherhood, relationships and so on. How did you get involved with the BBC? That must have been quite a coup?
They just reached out, they liked the podcast and thought it would be new and interesting to have that perspective across BBC 1xtra and BBC Sounds. It’s such an honour to record at the BBC, it came with a very high esteem.
Looking at your website, you’re looking to appoint specialists in a number of fields such as family planning and education, not to mention politics and appoint trustees. Are you going for charitable status and what plans have you got in the future? It certainly looks very ambitious!
For us it’s about becoming a think tank, I don’t think we will take on charitable status as of yet but it may become essential at a later date. For now our focus is how can we improve the outcomes for black families for a better Britain