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Black Millennials Honor the Lessons from Their Fathers – And Father Figures

By Hazel Trice Edney and Alanté Millow – 


Ron Busby Sr., president/CEO of the U. S. Black Chamber, Inc. and his son, Ron Jr. Ron Jr. says his path has been eerily similar to his father's, simply by listening and observing. PHOTO: Ewoma Ogbaudu Photography

Ron Busby Sr., president/CEO of the U. S. Black Chamber, Inc. and his son, Ron Jr. Ron Jr. says his path has been eerily similar to his father’s, simply by listening and observing. PHOTO: Ewoma Ogbaudu Photography

( – Ron Busby Jr. was only in elementary school when his mother died of cancer. His father, Ron Sr., was left to raise two young sons on his own. As a single father of two millennials – Ron Jr., 22, and Miles, 20 – Ron Sr. is now seeing the fruits of his diligence.

Much has been said about “millennials”, the often-used term for young people who have come of age in the new millennium. Somehow, they’ve gotten a reputation for being spoiled, entitled, tech-addicted, even hard-headed.

But, this week before Father’s Day 2017, Black millennials around the country, such as Ron Busby Jr., proved that they have in fact been listening – and watching. In brief interviews, they recalled the best lessons they’ve learned from their fathers – and their father-figures.

“My father really taught me the importance of service, making yourself a vessel for the wishes of the people around you,” says Ron Jr. “Now, I have that at the forefront of any sort of task or career goal or any interest that I have. It’s servant leadership. I consider that as a big part of whatever else I consider myself trying to do in the future.”

While some recall specific words or advice given to them, Ron Busby Jr., a 2017 graduate of Columbia University with a Bachelor’s in human rights, says for him, it was mainly watching his father’s example.

“There are some similarities that are exceptionally eerie,” he smiled. “My father ran track in college. I ran track in college. My father became a Kappa. I became a Kappa. My father, one of his first real jobs was at IBM. One of my first real jobs is at Google.”

He noted that the most important part of their relationship was the fact that Ron Sr. was there at the pivotal moments of his life. “I think a lot about his presence. Whether it was at a track meet, whether it was at graduations, whether it was at plays, his presence was really important.”

Fathers – and father figures – those who have advised, mentored, and guided children who are not even their own, will be celebrated across the nation on Father’s Day. But, Black men, in particular, face negative stereotypes from inside and outside their communities as well as a constant barrage of discrimination while most of them serve their children and families well.

In that regard, some millennials are giving what some dads might view as the best gift of all – respect.  They say they have watched, listened and taken heed.

“My dad taught me that the most important thing you could have was a strong sense of emotional intelligence,” says Darnelle Casimir, 23, of New York City. Even if you don’t have the best grades or IQ, “emotional intelligence combined with strong verbal and communication skills will set you up for success.”

Perseverance against all odds and excellence in the midst of oppression are traits gained by the struggles of African-Americans in general and passed down to their loved ones.

“My Dad always told me ‘to be the best. No matter what you do, you better be the best. And you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take,'” recalls Rachel O’Neal, 24, of Washington, DC.

Hameed Ali, 23, of Hayward, Calif., agrees. “My big brother Ibrahim told me ‘They’re going to hate what you stand for so you have to be twice as good.'”

Honesty and integrity is another one of those important character traits taught by most fathers.

“One thing my uncle told me is that your word is your bond. And keep it no matter what,” Says Trenton Harrison, 25, a Pittsburgh entrepreneur.

Independence and the ability to make it on their own is something that most parents want for their children.

“My dad always tells me to get my life in order so I can take care of myself so he if he dies tomorrow, he knows I’m straight,” says Jaylah Oni, 23, a makeup artist in New Orleans.

“I think the best piece of advice I got was from my god father Martin. He just told me that a man only has two things in this world and that is your wealth and health. He later explained to me that he told me that because I had to realize I had to find something I love doing because I will have the passion to succeed in that field,” recalls Cedrick Lee, 22, of Baltimore.

Not everyone can point to a father figure who was stronger than the mother who raised them.

“I haven’t had any father figures around growing up. But I did have a mother [Adrienne] that played both roles, if even possible,” says Ashley Lorelle, 26, a certified nursing assistant in D.C. “The most memorable thing she told me was that until I loved and valued myself, I would never feel loved or valued by a man.”

Some see relationship advice as being among the best life lessons they were taught. Eden Godbee, 29, a media relations manager, smiles as she recalls advice that her uncle, Julian Lewis, gave her that impacts her presence and her future.

“He told me when I was in college to not pay too much attention to work and school because then I would be married to it,” she said.

At first, Godbee, who was a student at Howard University at the time, thought it was a chauvinistic remark. But, now, as a professional woman she says, “I do realize what he was trying to say at the time. That if you put so much emphasis into these things…you really have to become married to them. So, I always make sure that I do my work at work. But I set that boundary, like if I’m going on vacation, I’m not available. If I’m going on a date, I’m not checking my phone. I leave the phone at home. So, that way I can have this thriving career and I can be successful and I also have things that enrich me and that I can be married to on the outside.”

Millions of children do not have fathers or even father figures in their lives per se. Yet, they will unknowingly benefit from receiving kind and encouraging words or just watching the examples set by the men in their lives.

One example is Rev. Alton Sumner, who has been principal at the North Bethesda Middle School in Maryland for 14 years. He and his wife, the Rev. Betty Sumner, have two millennial-age children of their own, a daughter, 23, and a son, 25. But at school, Rev. Sumner is aware of the fatherly impact he can make on the 1,130 students that come through the school doors each day. He says he enjoys imparting to them “a godly example” by simply greeting them as they arrive each morning.

“To have somebody to give them a positive word or a positive feeling as they come through the door,” he said, “I want them to know that they have so much within them that they can accomplish and I don’t want them to give up. I want them to keep going until they achieve that full potential.”

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