Dr. Angelo and Jonathan. (Courtesy photo)

African American fathers have not always been portrayed by the media in a positive light. As a matter of fact, some of the very depictions of Black fatherhood in entertainment have caused incredible harm to our communities. Today, I’m paying tribute to all black fathers, their contributions, and the changing face of Black fatherhood.

Contemporary research shows that today’s Black fathers are more engaged in consistent nurturing activities with their children than their Latinx or White counterparts. Armed with the latest brain science about the effects of toxic stress, and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), Black fathers are breaking the absent Dad stereotype. 

My father was deeply present in my life. His educational contributions are the reason I have a career, but like many Black men of his time, he was unaware of the impact that toxic stress had on him on his children. The brain science that ACEs is built on wasn’t available in the 1970’s. His old school fire as a father was meant to protect me from the real danger of white supremacy, but like many Black boys of my generation we knew Dad was proud of us, but, we wondered, did he love us. He was a social justice warrior, but warriors need love and help too. He did the best he could with the knowledge he had, and I am forever grateful for the drive and discipline he gifted me.  


Dr. Angelo and Jonathan. (Courtesy photo)

I, too, was unaware of toxic stress, and when fatherhood found me as a young adult, I panicked. When my sister died, I took care of her kids as my own. My mother moved from New York to help, but I, as a first-time father, needed father-focused help to ensure my sister’s children would thrive. Years later, my wife and I had our own child and three years later I know I still need help to raise my son to his full potential.  

One of the ways I’m using the career my father gave me to help my family and all families is through my work with First 5 California. First 5 California’s Stronger Starts campaign gives all parents the resources needed to help their children avoid and/or heal from the impacts of toxic stress. Toxic stress is a physical reaction to a traumatic event that a child experiences when a parent or caregiver cannot be there to buffer against the harmful effects. ACEs, or adverse childhood experiences, are the traumatic events that can turn into toxic stress if unaddressed. These include events like parental loss, experiencing violence or adult drug use at home. When children regularly face these traumas without enough support, these unaddressed traumas can turn into toxic stress and cause health issues well into their adulthood including developmental delays, heart disease, depression and anxiety and obesity.  

The need for this type of campaign came from decades of research on ACEs and toxic stress. What we know is that ACEs disproportionately impact Black children across the U.S. and 61 percent of Black children have experienced at least one ACE compared with 40 percent of white, non-Hispanic children, according to ChildTrends. The trauma is not only with our children but with us as parents and fathers, and addressing the deep roots of multigenerational trauma is necessary. First 5 California has begun this work to create a safe space for adults to be introspective without judgment and to provide them with the tools needed to support their children.  

Parents and caregivers can support their children by doing things as simple as being consistent with routines, listening, reading, playing, and showing daily affection. All of these can have a huge impact on a child’s ability to cope with toxic stress. The prescription for toxic stress is simple and accessible for every parent. We call it the Four Bs model: Be Calm, Be Steady, Be There and Be Nurturing.  

The Stronger Starts campaign has emboldened me to focus on preventing and buffering against the impacts of toxic stress with my children. It challenges me to consistently show unconditional love and support even when it means being vulnerable. Of this my father would be proud, but it’s just the first step of my journey. Join me in learning more about our Stronger Starts campaign. Let’s do this together. For more information, visit www.first5california.com