Letter to My Sons on Father's Day

06/20/2015 10:20 am ET | Updated Jun 20, 2016

My Dear Sons,

Throughout my life, I have always looked forward to Father's Day, so this year, I want to reflect on what it means to be sons and, someday, fathers. When my own dad, Pop-Pop, was alive, it meant so much to celebrate the life and fatherhood of such a special and compassionate man. He was a devoted dad, a doting grandfather and wonderful role model. In fact, I see in both of you his great character and expansive humanity.

For most of his adult life, dad worked for IBM, in the mailroom. I often wonder what it must have been like for him as an African-American in what was then a Mad Men-like environment. He probably endured many insults and slights, like being called "boy" by younger, white co-workers. He undoubtedly had plenty of reasons to be angry and frustrated. Instead he was, as the jazz classic goes, "generous, gracious and good." And he was, above all, tolerant -- aware that other people's prejudices couldn't diminish who he was.

He was an extraordinary man, and yet being a great dad was something he treated as ordinary; something he expected of himself; something he expected of his own son.

I miss him every day. But today, as a dad myself to both of you and your sister, Aja, I have a new appreciation for Father's Day. Besides being a chance to relax and eat a pile of steamed crabs, it's a day when I get to count my blessings, a day when I get to feel the intense love we share. To think about the wonderful people you've become and all that you've achieved. To reflect on our special bond as father and sons. As a family, we've created our own narrative -- perhaps one that belies what many people think about African American dads and their children.

And yet, my hope is that our story will one day seem ordinary, too.

That's why this Father's Day 2015, we're doing something new. We will gather together as a family, and watch a new documentary airing on Discovery Channel called Rise: The Promise of My Brother's Keeper. I know you may have been hoping for Jurassic World, but we can go see that, too. This film explores the everyday challenges facing boys and young men of color -- including African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans. It interviews President Obama about his own reflections and tells the stories of what our communities face, from gang violence and drugs to low-performing schools and a lack of economic opportunity. But, it also looks at innovative ways that people are meeting these challenges and putting more boys and young men of color on paths and ladders to success.

The lives of the young men in the film are transformed because of people who believed in their potential, who helped them believe in themselves, and who helped them chart a path to success, against all odds. But the real lesson here is that their success shouldn't be the exception. And we as a nation have a vested interest in making sure that all of our young people have the opportunity to become healthy, educated, productive members of our society -- citizens who can then pass on those lessons to the next generation.

That's what inspired President Obama to launch the My Brother's Keeper Initiative (MBK) -- an initiative I am proud to lead. It is inspiring people across the country to help all our young people reach their full potential, regardless of who they are, where they come from or the circumstances into which they are born. In the documentary, the President talks about why he started MBK, how it can change the lives and the surrounding narratives about boys and young men of color, and why this matters to the future of our country. As someone who grew up without a dad, and then made the decision to take on the joy and responsibility of being an active, engaged father in the lives of his daughters, the President understands that we have the power to break old cycles. We have the power to change the narrative.

You see my sons, positive stories about fathers and sons like us, seldom get told. Instead, it is drilled into the psyche of this nation that African-American men typically abandon our families and have little to do with raising our own children.

No doubt, there's much more work to be done -- more young people who need opportunities that match their talents, more families who need support, more communities that need to be lifted up. So MBK will continue to highlight the positive, do what works, and change the narrative around boys and young men of color and other disadvantaged youth. And, hopefully millions of Americans will be inspired by stories like those in Risejoin this effort and do their part to make sure that all of our sons and daughters have the chance to achieve their dreams. I know you will. Together, we can make what seems extraordinary ordinary.

Happy Father's Day, to my father and all the fathers across the country. To my children, I couldn't be prouder to be your dad.

Much love,


Broderick Johnson is Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary. He is also Chair of the My Brother's Keeper Task Force.

Rise: The Promise of My Brother's Keeper can currently be viewed on Facebook and will air on The Discovery Channel and OWN, The Oprah Winfrey Network at 7pm ET on Sunday, June 21st.