The Old Man of Anacostia

Jonetta Rose Barras on Father’s Day

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Jonetta, this year Juneteenth is on Father’s Day and you will engage in a luncheon conversation sponsored by the Anacostia Coordinating Council at the Anacostia Community Museum which will be live streamed on YouTube. What do you have in store for us that day?

The intersection of these two occasions provides us an opportunity to discuss the institution of family and how it has been adversely impacted for decades—from slavery through the present. Obviously, we can’t cover every aspect but we can come to appreciate the struggle within the Black community to maintain family, especially those that include fathers and mothers or similar surrogates; the kinship we once knew can be resurrected to help heal trauma and bring greater power.

Much has been studied and said about the impact of fatherlessness on Black boys.  How does that differ for girls?

You’re right much has been written within the past two or three decades about the importance of fathers in the lives of young boys. Those discussions were ignited and expanded through the National Fatherhood Movement. It was through my examination of that movement that I came to ask this quintessential question: If fathers are important to their sons, shouldn’t they be equally important to their daughters? Of course the answer is yes—a resounding yes.

If we consider the fact that in Black and Brown communities more than 60% of families are headed by women, then we know we have to look at how that affects all children. For mothers who grew up without their fathers, they face a dual challenge of attempting to convey to their sons what is manhood—how does it look, how does it act—without having had that example in their daily lives when they were growing up. Further, they are required to give their daughters the information they need about managing themselves in relationships and in a society that continues to be for all intents and purposes male dominated; yet these mothers did not have that training themselves. It is difficult to teach what you do not know. Absence of fathers for girls and women comes with that enormous challenge. That is why we must work to build strong families in our communities so our children receive what they need to lead whole healthy lives whose power can ripple through the years to come.

Can the damage of fatherlessness on Black girls and women ever be repaired? 

I do believe the damage can be repaired. But first we have to acknowledge it is an answer that is worthy of our attention. A person with diabetes cannot begin to become healthy until a proper diagnosis is made. Once that happens and a prescription for wellness is presented and adopted then we can begin to see improvements. That is the same with our community. Many—though not all—of our families are sick; some are dying. It’s not too late, however, to distribute the prescription we need. I hope after the ACC’s event on June 19th, there will be a rededication to reviving families. I speak from my experience and work for over 20 years in this arena. However, I do not have all the answers. This is an issue that requires all of us in concert and collaboration.

The Anacostia Coordinating Council is presenting the luncheon featuring Jonetta Rose Barras. To listen to the discussion via YouTube go to tinyurl.com/luncheonconvo.

Long-time Ward 8 community activist Philip Pannell can be contacted at philippannell@comcast.net.