Originally published in the New Pittsburgh Courier on February 28, 2024


In this month’s Take Charge of Your Health Today (TCYHT), we’re focusing on the critical parenting role of Black fathers, including the support they need to pass along their own confidence and resilience to their children. Engaged Black fathers are supremely important to their children’s health and well-being long after the children grow into adults.

Joining us with insight on this health topic is Carlos T. Carter, President & CEO of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh

TCYHT: Carlos, fatherhood has been an area of focus for the Urban League. Please share with us some of this history as well as recent efforts.

CARLOS: Core to our mission is empowering families and communities, which includes a strong commitment to supporting fathers. Since our inception 106 years ago, we’ve worked to remove barriers and connect men to jobs, housing, and opportunities to achieve economic self-reliance.

For example, in the 1960s, our local Urban League was part of the coalition that worked to create Operation Dig. This initiative was the first large-scale construction apprenticeship program in Pittsburgh aimed to provide jobs for Black men.

The Urban League in Pittsburgh also has a long and proud history of being part of the struggle to help Black men who’ve been incarcerated regain their seat at the table of life.

Today, the Urban League supports Black men via our three Family Support Centers in Duquesne, Northview Heights, and the East End. At each of these locations, we work to connect Black men to job opportunities and remove barriers to their success. We’ve also worked with the Department of Human Services and their fatherhood initiatives to support Black men and their families. We’ve also partnered with MAD DADS.

Given that Black men are not celebrated enough, we’ve hosted events where Black fathers are honored and appreciated. We’ve seen fathers moved to tears over these acts of love and appreciation from our team members, as many have not had people appreciate their contributions.

Finally, in the spirit of Frederick Douglas who said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men,” we’ve invested in our young men through our Black Male Leadership Development Institute (BMLDI).  Through partnership with Slippery Rock University, TriState Capital Bank, and other community partners and mentors, we build upon these young Black men’s strengths and empower them to be career-ready, civically engaged, and empowered leaders who are changemakers in their communities.

TCYHT: That’s impressive! Where do you see opportunities for new research that focuses on Black fatherhood? What are some of the key questions that researchers need to answer?

CARLOS: Black fathers are often demonized by the “deadbeat” narrative, which makes it important to continue to provide data that changes that falsehood. We need this data to be elevated to help tell the whole and truthful story about Black fathers.  We need to empower researchers and community members alike to elevate and communicate the good reputation of Black fathers. We also need to explore more deeply methods to remove barriers to elevate Black fathers’ health and life expectancy, which is among the worst in our country.

TCYHT: What are some promising programs and policies related to fatherhood that the Urban League would like to establish here in Pittsburgh?

CARLOS: We’re actively seeking increased financial support for our BMLDI program (as mentioned earlier), which has created many great leaders in the Pittsburgh region and beyond. It’s important to invest in our young men before they become fathers.

We’re also interested in launching a local version of one of our sister affiliates’ programs that’s focused on workforce development needs for Black men. Given our region’s high unemployment and disenfranchisement of Black men, this is particularly important. A 2020 study from the University of Milwaukee showed that in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, Black men between the ages of 25-54 had an unemployment rate of 33%. Young Black men between 16 and 24 who were not employed and not in school logged in at 21%. What’s more, the Black male median annual earnings (adjusted for regional cost-of-living) was $27,122.

These alarming statistics show us that special attention is needed, especially when you consider that men are less likely to seek help or assistance on their own. Black men need very targeted relationship- and trust-building measures to empower them so they can achieve their full potential, which includes economic mobility that will reinvigorate the Black middle class in our region.

TCYHT: Excellent points. What should Black fathers tell their sons about creating economic prosperity for the Black family and elevating sustainable wealth for future generations?

CARLOS: Fathers need to communicate the importance of getting an education, pursuing entrepreneurship, and saving for the future. We need to remind our young men that athletics is not the only way forward. They can be entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, tradesmen, scientists, investors — or anything they set their minds to.

It’s important to note that they must be intentional about building wealth. We need to remind them that they don’t have to always work for someone else; they can be their own boss. Most importantly, they need to believe in themselves and know they come from a rich history of great minds and self-made men. They are more than what the media says about them! Our young Black men are created for greatness and prosperity!

Carlos T. Carter is President and CEO of Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh.