Author and founder of The Dad Gang Sean Williams is leading the charge to change the narrative surrounding black fathers. The movement began after Sean met a woman at his neighborhood store who praised him for being an active dad while out shopping with his youngest daughter. This brief encounter sparked a movement that has helped build a community of over 3,000 members of fathers who support and encourage each other.
Due to Sean’s commitment to uplifting fathers, The Dad Gang has been widely recognized by Oprah Winfrey, Steve Harvey and Will Smith. The organization led partnerships with Dove Men Care and Walmart in donating $50,000 to fathers in need who have been impacted by COVID through its nonprofit Random Acts of Dadness. For his kindness, Sean received this year’s NAACP Unsung Hero Award for leading the Black DadsMatter march in response to the murder of George Floyd.
Sean sat down for an interview with Forbes The Culture to talk about his advocacy for black dads, his new Girl Dad book and the ongoing work of The Dad Gang. This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.
For(bes)Culture: What inspired you to start The Dad Gang movement?
Sean Williams: So The Dad Gang was born out of a sly compliment I got a few years ago. When I had my second child, it was a baby at the time. An older white woman just stopped me to compliment me saying, oh, so good to see you still being an active dad. So at that point I was offended, but it was a teachable moment because many black fathers like me are not idle. It is a false narrative that has been perpetuated all these years.
For me, a light bulb went out and I needed to create something that could change that stereotype, because I and all my friends were very active dads. So, the Dadgang was created to be a platform to spread those positive images, videos, and our experiences as active black dads. And the idea was, hopefully, if we circulated as many images as possible, the narrative would start to change.
For Culture: What are you doing specifically to combat stereotypes around black fatherhood?
Sean Williams: We don’t do anything but be dads. Outside of social media, we have a Dads Walk every Father’s Day. We wanted to take our mission from Instagram to real life. So, we had over a hundred dads come to Brooklyn for our first stroller with homies event, and it went viral. We had brunches and hosted panels because changing the narrative was one thing, but then you realize that dads also need a community to share tips, experiences, and become better dads.
For Culture: How did your experience as a daughter’s dad inspire your Girl Dad book?
Sean Williams: Kobe Bryant has ever wondered, does he feel weird not having a son to continue his legacy? And the whole idea of him saying no, I’m proud to be a father of a girl, because look at her, she’s on a lot doing her thing. Rest in peace to them both. It was a real pivotal moment for all dads and daughters. I’m changing the narrative with dad, so I got on with HarperCollins so all those new dads and young dads can understand that being a girl dad is an amazing experience.
Raising a girl forces men to do different things. Now we’re into bows and combed hair. We do all these things that may seem feminine, but that’s okay, because you’re a father and you’re raising a daughter. So you can sit at tea time, play with makeup, and it doesn’t affect your masculinity in any way. This book was meant to highlight and celebrate that relationship between a father and daughter from the very beginning.
For Culture: What advice do you give to fathers who have broken relationships with their children?
Sean Williams: Well, to start, it’s never too late. Often fathers can get off to a bad start. At any time, you may realize that being a father to your children is probably the best thing that can happen to you both, you have time to do it. You can reverse this relationship at any time. Many guys also have a feeling about the financial responsibility of fatherhood and that’s the furthest thing from your mind when raising a little human. If you’re thinking about money, you’re already off to a bad start. So I try to tell dads not to think about the tangible return. Don’t think about what you’re spending, because being a parent is so much more rewarding. Once you tap and show up, you have a front row seat to the best show in the world with these kids.
I don’t think anyone naturally wants to turn their back on their child. With The Dad Gang, we don’t talk about deadbeat dads in a way that berates them or makes them feel bad. Instead, we say, you have the option to come back, it’s not the end of the world. There’s help here, resources, and a community that wants to help give you the opportunity to do better. We’ll never avoid them, because if we do, they won’t see the examples we’re trying to spread.
For(bes)Culture: What’s next for The Dad Gang?
Sean Williams: We are going to globalize. So watch out for that and we’ve got dad’s random acts. Dad needs support not just in America but around the world.