During the month of June, we were very fortunate to talk to four great dads about what being a dad meant to them. We thank John Gallagher, Sheldon Smith, Rodney Washington and George Stewart for sharing their experiences with us.
The month of June also made us reexamine our commitment to both addressing the challenges that ALL of our children face and fighting the discrimination and racism that ANY of our children face.
While we were not able to fit him into the month of June, we wanted to share a conversation we had with Albert Sykes, a lifelong resident of Jackson and the proud father of four sons. Sykes is also someone who has been on the front lines of addressing racism and discrimination in Mississippi.
Skyes grew up in the Shady Oaks community around the corner from where Medgar Evers lived and died. He describes himself as someone who “has a lot of history with folks who’ve done work in Mississippi and across the country in the name of civil rights.” He studied with civil rights legend Bob Moses and later worked with him on the Algebra Project and was involved with Moses in the founding of the Young People’s Project.
As a dad, Skyes has always involved his children in going to protests and explained to them why it’s important that they see what it’s like when people come together for a cause. (Listen to this Storycorps recording with his son Aidan.) Sykes said sharing his experience as a father of young children was an opportunity to be “on the other side of the narrative” that people hear about black fathers being absent.
“It’s important to me that people hear us talk about us,” he said. “What I see at my kid’s schools or at public events or protests is black fathers coming out and saying they care about their children and their future.”
As a young dad (he was 22 when his first son was born) he quickly realized that he could no longer “do what I want to do, that I had to see things with a clear understanding that I was being a direct example to my son.” Each son’s birth made him think about their futures as black boys in Mississippi, and how he could “support their growth but not control their growth—how do I let this person become their own person?” Sykes dreams that someday families will get what they need, not what society feels comfortable allocating to them.
Sykes is the executive director of IDEA (Institute for Democratic Education in America), a national organization that focuses on equity in education.