Straight from the Source: Fatherhood in the era of Juneteenth

  • Earl Dickens of Streamwood, pictured here with his wife, Andrea, and three children -- son Deandre and daughters Deandrea and Deanna -- reflects on the "humbling responsibility" of being a Black father on this Juneteenth Father's Day.

    Earl Dickens of Streamwood, pictured here with his wife, Andrea, and three children -- son Deandre and daughters Deandrea and Deanna -- reflects on the "humbling responsibility" of being a Black father on this Juneteenth Father's Day. Courtesy of Earl Dickens

  • Earl Dickens

    Earl Dickens

  • Earl Dickens

    Earl Dickens

 
Updated 6/18/2022 8:36 PM

As a father of three children -- Deandre the only boy and the oldest, Deandrea, and Deanna, the baby of the bunch -- I consider myself to be overwhelmingly blessed.

It is a grand duty, and humbling responsibility to be a dad.

 

Myself, I grew up only knowing my adopted parents. I would come to know my biological mother as an early teen, and my biological dad only through stories.

As a homeless teen, I would learn the value and appreciation of family at an early age. I would covet what my peers took for granted ... a warm bed, hot food, a sibling rivalry, but most of all, the guidance, security, and attention of parents.

Growing up on the West Side of Chicago in the '80s, I was exposed to the cold hard truth of life -- survival.

I learned how to survive before I ever had a lesson in how to live.

Most of my friends' parents showed me the way of survival. I had to grow up at an age when most of my peers were just transitioning into puberty. There were little to no options for a young Black male.

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The Lawndale and K-Town communities had very little resources to offer a teen trying to find his way. What I did have in abundance was love, charity, and compassion.

I can recall lots of my friends' parents, older siblings, and distant relatives supporting me in whatever way they could from house to house, secondhand clothes, and lots of words of advice and encouragement. It was just what I needed to transition from one moment to the next.

In my late teens, I found myself a transient in the town of Elgin. I had migrated to the Northwest suburb via cousins and the promise of a place to stay. Only to soon be thrust back into homelessness again, only this time, I had found myself in love, and eventually starting a family.

I always said that Elgin was my "Mayberry"-- a place of new beginnings, and a chance at a fresh start. Those are two commodities a young Black man rarely gets. Having grown to appreciate the little things in life, I slowly worked myself out of poverty and hopelessness.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Starting a family was a dream come true, and packed with challenges. I had very little skills in how to survive in my new environment. Well, today I can thank my mother-in-law for that. She guided me through my first established employment to my first apartment. Engagement and fatherhood were soon to follow on this wonderful new path.

In the late 2000s, I had a great opportunity to found a nonprofit for autistic and special needs children in honor of my son, who was diagnosed with autism at an early age. I wanted to share the compassion that had been passed down through me.

Decades later, that compassion would open up many doors. One such door was at the African American Coalition of Kane County, an established organization that had been revised. My first involvements were as an outsider, but soon, I was offered a seat as a board member.

In my involvement with this organization, Juneteenth was on the agenda. It had been a long-celebrated tradition in Elgin and the country that very few (people) actually knew of. We set forth with revising this momentous occasion, but with COVID in full bloom, how?

We set our thoughts on creating a socially distanced event -- a motorcade parade that would fly flags from the native countries of the continent of Africa in solidarity with and recognition of the diversity of former African slaves who were kept in bondage over two years after an amendment to the Constitution granted them full citizenship and all due rights of the freedoms of this land.

Over the years of planning and implementing the celebration and recognition of Juneteenth, I reflect back on the bondage of poverty, and sharing the significance and comparison of freedom denied is similar to lack of resources and opportunities. I would recall teaching these things to my children as early as speaking age (in an age-appropriate context).

Being able to share with my children the revolution from poverty seemed paralleled to the revelation those former slaves in Texas must have felt once liberated from bondage. Being a leader, father, and community representative gives me great honor and pride in knowing that, in this Juneteenth era, my children can take their father's experience and equate it to the meaning and significance of what Juneteenth truly stands for.

That, just as I and the entire Black/African American community can put the sacrifices of our ancestors on our shoulders and carry it into today's successes, so also can my children carry my sacrifices on their shoulders into future successes.

In celebration and reverence of all fathers on this 2022 Juneteenth-Father's Day weekend, I would implore all to recognize in high fashion ... fatherhood in the Juneteenth era. #onelove

• Earl Dickens of Streamwood is vice president of the African American Coalition of Kane County.

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