By Shirley Hawkins
WESTCHESTER — Lovingly surrounded by family and friends, local African-American fathers who love, protect and provide for their families were honored during the 17th annual Honor Thy Father Awards Dinner June 17 at the Proud Bird restaurant by the nonprofit Estelle for Humanity.
“I wanted to shine a spotlight on unsung fathers who continue to uplift their families and communities,” said founder Denise Estelle, who has honored nearly 100 fathers and male mentors since the award dinner’s inception.
This year’s honorees were Brad Carson, the Rev. Anthony D. Penn, Jeffrey Carl Johnson Jr. and keynote speaker Craig Anthony York.
Gerry Foster and Pearl Jr. served as master and mistress of ceremonies and provided lively conversation that kept the gala running smoothly.
Estelle, who said that she grew up without a father, never forgot the pain and yearning she felt from not having a sfather figure in her life. She said she realized that there was a need to honor African-American men in the community who work hard every day to provide for their families but seldom receive recognition for their efforts.
“As an adult, I would see fathers with their children and I just wanted to run down the street and hug them,” Estelle said. “I decided to roll out the carpet for these wonderful brothers who are not only providing for their wives and children, but who are making an impact in the community.”
Keynote speaker York, a minister and founder of the holding company Matt’ LEO Group, told the audience that black fathers often get a “bad rap” in society and the media for being absentee dads.
“I’m a softie, I almost want to cry,’’ he said while surveying the audience. “The way black fathers are being represented in most cases [in society] is untrue,” added York, the father of Christian, Taylor, Danielle and Craig who has been married to wife Tracy for 23 years.
“When I grew up in South Los Angeles, 90 percent of the families I knew had a black father in the home. Yes, there are fathers that are irresponsible, but that is not always the case.”
York’s son Christian said that his father, a Morehouse graduate, has been an inspiration.
“Having a strong father has helped me to excel at Morehouse College,” he said proudly.
“It’s important to honor fathers,” York said. “We want to be acknowledged. Fathers care. We love. We have feelings. It’s hard to be a father, but twice as hard to be a black father.”
Referring to the unarmed black males across the country who have been fatally shot by law enforcement, he said, “I’m a pro-male. I’m going to fight for our brothers because we are under attack. I have to be careful when I drive home because I don’t know if I’ll be pulled over by the police,” he said.
Penn, who worked for the Los Angeles Fire Department for 33 years and rose to the rank of captain before retiring in 2008, is a senior pastor of Morningside United Church of Christ in Inglewood. He recalls that as a young father he had only one pair of tennis shoes and one pair of brown pants, but he made sure his family was comfortable.
“The rest of my income went to provide for my children,” he said.
“I thank Denise Estelle for giving us fathers a moment to shine. First, I’m surprised to be recognized. Second, I’m very honored. Third, I’m appreciative that someone recognizes the work we do as fathers.”
Penn said when his daughter was growing up, he showered her with love and affection and said he is proud that she is now known as veterinarian Dr. Raina Penn who practices in Seattle, Washington.
“When your daughter looks at you and says, ‘I love you, daddy,’ that is the best.”
Jeffrey Carl Johnson, owner of ROCK Renew Stone Restoration, has been married for 28 years to Faren Johnson and is the father of Jaren Charles and Jeffrey Carl III. They were proud to honor him for his lifelong dedication and devotion.
Brad Carson, who has been married to his wife, Carmen Carson, for 32 years and is the father of Bianca, Brittney and Christian Carson, has served as a deputy probation officer for the past 31 years. Several years ago, Carson helped to mediate a gang truce in the Venice/Oakwood section of Los Angeles.
He serves as the president of the United Hood Nation where thousands of gang members, Mayor Eric Garcetti, Police Chief Charlie Beck and members of the community regularly come together to talk about police and gang issues.
“I’m greatly honored and humbled to receive this award,” said Carson, who is also an ordained minister. “It’s greatly personal to me because it’s not about what I do at work, it’s who I am as a father to my family.”
Carson credits his father, Isaac Carson, a civil engineer, for giving him valuable family advice.
“He said, ‘Love your wife and life and spend a lot of time with your kids. There is no substitution for spending time with your family — because you can’t get that back.’”
The four honorees were presented with certificates of appreciation by state and local officials, including U.S. Reps. Maxine Waters and Karen Bass, Los Angeles City Council President Herb J. Wesson Jr., Assemblywoman Autumn R. Burke, state Sen. Holly J. Mitchell, County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and state Board of Equalization member Jerome E. Horton.
Dressed in colorful Afrocentric attire, friends and family enjoyed the soulful strains of keyboard player Mitchell Rhodes, the electric drumming of Clarence Ross, and the soaring vocals of Dennis Flowers, Lettrice Lawrence and Wanda Ray Willis.