Kenneth Braswell, the CEO and Founder of Fathers Incorporated opened a discussion at GEEARS’ annual fundraiser on February 16th by noting a false trope. “The societal narrative, particularly for Black fathers,” he said, “is that we‘re not there.”
His follow-up, though, drew a burst of applause. “I can attest to you that we’re there!”
This was especially true at this luncheon, which was called Stand-Up for Georgia’s Kids. The event featured five Black fathers sharing their wisdom and humor—as well as authentic experiences from communities that GEEARS both serves and depends upon.
Most of the humor was provided by headliner DJ Pryor, whose video of him “chatting” with his little boy went viral in 2019 and continues to hit big, with more than 500 million views and counting.
But before he began his set, Pryor called out another VIP in the room, Atlanta’s Dad in Chief, Mayor Andre Dickens.
“I go to a lot of cities,” Pryor noted, “and the mayors don’t always care. The mayors don’t always show up.”
Mayor Dickens did indeed show up, launching the luncheon by joyfully accepting GEEARS’ Early Childhood Champion award, presented to him by Stephanie Blank, Board Chair of GEEARS. He began by reminding attendees of his 2022 rallying call for public and private entities to collectively raise $20 million for early education. He thanked “community conveners like GEEARS and PAACT, who never let us forget that the bedrock of everything, from language to literacy to social emotional health, begins in the years zero to five.”
Then it was Pryor’s turn. He swooped masterfully from hilarious to poignant as he reminisced about the life-saving teacher who let him do comedy in class, forgiving his abusive father, and what it feels like when your toddler launches you into fame after 16 years of struggling to make it in stand-up. (Pryor demonstrated the ugly crying he did when he learned that Ironman and DJ Pryor were declared “heroes of the year.”)
“The world is recognizing that there is a need for connection with our babies,” he said. “I’m proud of the video because it led to a bigger conversation about the necessity of communicating with our kids.”
He added that, while academics and pundits praised him for his serve-and-return technique, “I was just talking to my son.”
Talk then turned to a panel, moderated by Braswell and featuring Pryor, GEEARS’ Pre-K Recruitment Specialist Dawan Barfield, and Johnathon Hines, the first African- American male to be named Public School Pre-K Teacher of the Year for the State of Georgia in 2019-2020.
After Pryor bonded with Hines over his own viral video, the experts discussed the need for more men in education, the importance of showing your kids how to “dream crazy,” and the rewards that can come from being present.
“One of the things we say to our dads when they ask for advice,” Braswell noted, “is ‘Don’t miss a minute, because you might miss a moment. A moment you can’t get back.’”
So many at Stand-Up for Georgia’s Kids, including the masters of ceremony, GEEARS Executive Director Mindy Binderman, and Board Chair Stephanie Blank, were effusively grateful for this moment with the GEEARS community.
“Our work is always expanding. Those of you who get our monthly newsletters might have noticed—we have a lot going on,” Binderman told the group as the program concluded. “Thank you again for supporting GEEARS, not just with your dollars today, but also with your partnership throughout the year.”
The message spoke to Blythe Keeler Robinson, President and CEO of Sheltering Arms Early Education and Family Centers.
“I’m excited to be here to bring in additional resources for GEEARS. They’re such a powerful voice as our advocates,” she said. “I’m excited for all the energy around early childhood education and bringing in different voices—having fun while we celebrate all this important work on behalf of young children in our community.”
“I think GEEARS is one of the most forward-thinking organizations in the state,” added Rabbi Peter Berg, a GEEARS board member. “I’m excited to be able to be here in person and to be able to garner so much support and share successes because there are so many successes to share.”
With this annual luncheon, GEEARS can add another success to its roster—an event that not only convened our community for tremendous fun and a delicious meal but also for a meaningful, emotional conversation about fatherhood, engagement, and, as Kenneth Braswell put it, “the connection that comes from presence.”
Even if you missed the luncheon, you can still make a tax-deductible donation to support GEEARS’ work. Click here to contribute.
View photos from the event below.