June 11, 2018

Royal Harris hugging his elderly father
Royal Harris with his late father.
By Augusta Herman

Royal Harris, father of five, knows a thing or two about parenting. Grateful for how his father was a role model for him, Mr. Harris now strives to be a positive role model for African American fathers in a new program to help them become successful parents and providers.

“I am familiar with being a dad,” Mr. Harris says. “As an African American father, these are men I know and men who look like me. I’m not removed from this population. I understand the complexities and nuances involved.”

As the program coordinator for the Health Department’s new Male and Father Involvement program, Royal works to connect African American fathers with knowledge, skills and resources.

The program is part of Healthy Birth Initiatives, which uses culturally-specific strategies to support pregnant African American women and their families before and after the birth of their child.

Male and Father Involvement takes it to the next step by striving to engage and support fathers and men.

portrait of father kissing toddler son

Keeping Fathers in the Picture

“Fathers are a necessary part of child rearing,” Mr. Harris explains. “When involved, fathers contribute to the mother’s well-being and have a direct impact on their child’s life, making the child whole and healthy.”

When fathers are not involved in the parenting process, it’s often not because they do not wish to be. Systemic reasons—such as employment, education, mental health challenges, substance abuse or involvement in the criminal justice system–can keep dads out of the picture.

Engaging with Parents Is Key

Male and Father Involvement partners with organizations that work to break down barriers that prevent African American fathers from being present in their children’s lives.

portrait of an African American familyStill in the startup phase, Mr. Harris and his colleagues are busy building partnerships with parenting support groups and community organizations, including:

Programs and services focus on engaging parents through parenting classes, mentorship, support groups, community events and policy work.

Royal hopes to build upon the work that these organizations are already doing to build supportive infrastructures for Black men and their families.

“I firmly believe for us, our job is to be the backbone,” Harris says, “We are here to empower the people already doing the work.”

By working together, Male to Father Involvement strives to build a stronger, healthier and involved community.