Matt Prestbury is on a mission to change the negative stereotypes of black fathers.
Almost a decade ago, he was separated from his wife and was in the process of getting a divorce. Beyond his immediate family, he said he had no one to reach out to for support, so he started Black Fathers, a Facebook group for fathers of color to connect, share, and inspire each other.
He said he created the space to bond with other fathers “regardless of what situation they were coming from.”
“I started the group because I wanted to have a connection with other fathers who were in the same boat,” Prestbury said. “Black men from all walks of life who are fathers, husbands, married, divorced, raising children alone or fighting to be in their children’s lives.”
Gary Scott, a member of the group, said he leaned on the group for support while he was going through a bitter custody battle.
“I reached out to Black Fathers, and I told them it wasn’t a good day for me, and the level of support I got from those guys, I thank every one of you brothers for being there for me,” Scott told ABC News. “The friendships that I have developed within that time, it’s been a godsend.”
Prestbury said sometimes he doesn’t understand the impact the group has in the men’s lives until he hears testimonies like Scott’s.
“It just feels good to have something so positive,” he said. “There is no disrespect. Even if it’s anything in the news, we work hard not to be negative. We are open to different perspectives and we don’t have to agree but we won’t allow anybody to come into the group with any negativity.”
The group also offers workshops on literacy and provides legal advice for members pursuing child custody or visitation rights in family court and different aspects of fathering from knowing your rights as a parent to doing your daughter’s hair, Prestbury said.
The group, which was created in 2009, now has over 30,000 members from more than 90 U.S. cities, including Prestbury’s hometown of Baltimore.
“I looked in magazines and commercials and in the mainstream media and there were no black men who looked like me,” he said. “Even if I did find any, they were almost never shown in a positive light. I thought, ‘I can either sit and complain or I could do something to shift the perceptions about who we are and to understand our own values.'”
To create a space for the men to share their thoughts, opinions, photos, and sometimes struggles, Prestbury said he made the page private and strictly for men. However, he created another page called Black Men and Co. that is also private but permits both men and women to contribute about husbands and fatherhood.
Prestbury has also started hosting Black Father’s Night in Baltimore. And to mark the page’s nine-year anniversary, he is encouraging all black men to meet offline on the third Saturday in March.
“I encourage everybody to do it,” he said. “The goal is to celebrate the day that the group started, but it’s also a day that should draw us closer, and that is part of the plan on that particular day.”
Prestbury is an educator and a father of three teenage boys and an 11-year-old girl.
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