D.C. motorcade celebrates role of Black fathers on Father’s Day


By Jasmine Hilton,

Bill O’Leary The Washington Post

Eric Smith, right, with his sons, Eric II, 9, left, and Chase, 7, before a motorcade to honor Black fathers on Father’s Day.

Zyah Brown, 9, stood in front of the crowd and took the mic.

Her father, Ron Brown, 43, looked on with a grin, holding his phone horizontally. He pressed the record button the moment Zyah began to recite a poem she wrote:

“My love for you is like the strongest bridges. I’d rather you if offered all the riches. Greatest father ever, no competition. Daddy, listen, I spread my wings so you can watch me fly. I thank the Lord for angels in the sky.”

Brown waved and cheered as Zyah finished the rest of her bars in dedication to him. “Amazing. . . . I’m speechless,” he said.

At the second annual D.C. Black Fathers Matter event on Father’s Day, attendees gathered Sunday morning at the African American Civil War Museum to begin a celebration of Black fathers before a motorcade procession through the District. Organizers said their mission was twofold: Bring attention to the positive roles of Black men while encouraging residents to take a coronavirus vaccine in D.C. communities with lower rates of vaccination.

Organizers inflated black and silver balloons to decorate cars, along with black and white signs that read “Black Fathers Matter” and “Black Lives Matter.” Ribbons were tied to trees along the pathway.

Bill O’Leary

The Washington Post

A black ribbon tied to a tree delivers a message as people gather for a motorcade to honor Black fathers.

Bill O’Leary

The Washington Post

Participants begin to enter their cars for a motorcade to honor Black fathers.

Fathers, grandfathers — and some great-grandfathers — lined up for free scoops of ice cream as they awaited the start of the motorcade.

Charles “Chuck” Hicks, 76, chair of the D.C. Black Fathers Matter Project, came up with the idea for the motorcade while watching protests over the killing of George Floyd unfold last summer.

He said he was “too old” to protest last year, so he thought of a different way to remember Floyd and celebrate Black men that would bring the community together. Within two weeks, the first motorcade rolled through the city last Father’s Day.

[The Civil War veteran and single dad who inspired Father’s Day]

“We want to celebrate Black men and let Black men know that they’re important — Black men, Black boys, Black grandfathers and fathers and uncles — and that we love them,” Hicks said. “When we start talking about bringing this country together and being positive, we need to start off being positive about Black men.”

Hicks said the event also serves to remember unarmed Black men killed by police and to encourage Black men to prioritize their physical and mental health.

Bill O’Leary

The Washington Post

Charles “Chuck” Hicks rides with D.C. Fire and EMS Chief John A. Donnelly Sr. in a motorcade to honor Black fathers.

Eric Smith, 36, brought his two sons, Eric II, 9, and Chase, 7, to the event. Holding “Black Fathers Matter” signs and watching the boys as they played next to him, Smith spoke of creating memories with his sons and the need for recognizing Black men in the community.

“I think, in some cases, this may be the only celebration that some Black fathers get,” Smith said. “I want to make sure I’ll be a part of that . . . and I wanted to make sure my kids see that, too.”

The motorcade traveled through Wards 1, 5, 7 and 8. Hicks said that those wards were chosen to reach the African American community and that organizers wanted “to put boots on the ground,” rather than being on a stage. Leading the way was Charles Masterson, 64, in his truck carrying the Ni Dembaya band as its members played the drums through the District.

Pege Gilgannon, 72, rode in the middle of the motorcade and said she could feel the joy of people cheering as the procession wound through neighborhoods, passing out signs and hats, including some that read “Get the Shot,” a reference to the coronavirus vaccines.

Bill O’Leary

The Washington Post

Meagan Smith, 8, carries a message from a sunroof as a motorcade to honor Black fathers on Father’s Day starts in the Shaw neighborhood.

Unlike the 2020 version of the event, this year’s motorcade centered on efforts to encourage residents to get vaccinated. As the motorcade ended at the Big Chair on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE in Anacostia, a purple Giant pharmacy tent was there to greet participants in the parking lot.

Underneath was a vaccine pop-up shop, where anyone could walk up and get a coronavirus shot. Gift cards were available to attendees with proof of vaccination.

Across the parking lot, World Central Kitchen passed out meals and the United Planning Organization gave out food and cleaning supplies. Other booths were set up to provide pamphlets and information on mental health services.

The end of the event brought together community members and leaders, including D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and D.C. Fire Chief John A. Donnelly Sr., who spoke on the motorcade’s significance in celebrating Black men.

Stuart Anderson, 61, an organizer of the event, thanked the crowd and smiled. A father himself, Anderson also was thinking of getting back home to his granddaughters, who he spoke with on the phone while loading up signs to pass out.

“We’re playing the ‘I love you more’ game,” he said with a smile. “I love you more than all the trees. I love you more than all the leaves on the trees.”

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