Interviews with purpose-driven leaders who are dedicated to helping others and making a positive impact in the world.
Novemeber 17, 2023
Sean Williams | The Dad Gang
TELL US, WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?
Hi, my name is Sean Williams. I’m a dad – the best, first, and most important job. I am also the founder and CEO of The Dad Gang and the founder and executive director of our nonprofit Random Acts of Dadness. Additionally, I am the author of two children’s books from Harper Collins titled Girl Dad and Boy Dad.
HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
In 2016, after having my second child, I lived in a predominantly white neighborhood in Long Island, New York. I was approached by a woman who, after seeing me in a grocery store with my second child, noted that she was happy to see I stuck around to be an active dad. That comment was jaw-dropping. Instead of responding offensively, it was a teachable moment. I tried to teach her to not believe in negative stereotypes that were media-amplified, but not factual. All the friends I knew, including my dad, were active Black dads.
I left that encounter wondering how many other people don’t live in diverse areas and still have a misconception that Black dads are not present in their children’s lives. For me, it really struck a chord. I don’t know any deadbeat dads in my friend circle. I’m sure that exists within all races, but I think this one was more racially driven
because she was an older white woman. My background is in graphic design and web design, so I figured the best way to tackle a misconception like that would be to create and share content to change the narrative by telling the story of other active Black fathers like myself. The first step was starting social media pages called The Dad Gang, which was honestly my crew of dads. On that platform, I would share pictures and videos of us just being active dads. We weren’t acting, these were real things that we were doing like changing diapers and just taking care of our kids. The whole purpose was to normalize the image.
Very early on, #dadgang and our mission of changing how the world views Black fatherhood resonated with Black dads all across the nation. We did that for about a year until my first actual event, which was just brunch with dads and their kids. To my surprise, more than 100 dads showed up. I realized not only is The Dad Gang mission really important, but on a smaller level there weren’t many spaces for dads to have these huge playdates or gatherings where they can bond with their kids and other fathers. It was not only effective for support, but it gave us a new space, a new thing to do, and a new thing to look forward to. It just elevated our fatherhood experience across the board.
Six years later, we have nationwide events. When we’re doing a March of Dads in multiple cities, we have 200 to 300 dads come out. These dads are already engaging with each other, they’re tribes of dads. Dads just get together regularly, especially if we’re doing a Dad Gang activation.
WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? WHY IS THIS WORK IMPORTANT TO YOU?
I think the mission is so important for a few reasons. Obviously, positive images matter. Some of the negative comments are asking why do we think we have to prove that we’re good dads to our ethnic counterparts or the world. The thing is, positive images do matter because negative images are effective in telling a negative story. Once we started the page, a lot of the images were very healing for members of the Black community who didn’t have dads. Those dads also believe those stereotypes. They had given up on the thought of Black dads being great dads because their dad wasn’t. These images affected our own communities in ways I hadn’t even thought about. This page was not only changing the way our ethnic counterparts view Black dads or Black men but also the Black community. It’s starting to become a sense of healing for them. It also helped elevate our standard of fatherhood.
We live in a world where we’re getting so much information so much faster because of social media. When a dad tip goes viral, you know that parents just need it. For myself, I’ve assessed my own fatherhood every year speaking to more dads and hearing about more experiences. That’s how we all get better as a group, not just for the Black community but for all fathers. Now, we have this page that’s not only appealing visually but with real information that you can apply at home. How to deal with your kids’ emotions, how to bond with them, different ways to play with them, ways to raise kids with special needs… I think it’s so important because of what people are getting from it and it’s really elevating our parenthood experiences.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
The mission of The Dad Gang was to change the way the world views Black fatherhood, which was a very ambitious mission. I knew it wasn’t going to be a one-man job, it wasn’t just on my shoulders. But I think it sparked action in a lot of other dads. Before 2017 there weren’t a lot of platforms dedicated to showing Black fatherhood, or fatherhood period. There may have been small groups, but there weren’t pages doing just dad content. After The Dad Gang was started in 2017 there was a clear spike in “Dad” pages through 2020. For our crew and our organization, I don’t see it as competition, because we’re all promoting the same thing from a different lens. The impact was the need. It encourages dads to show their fatherhood publicly. If The Dad Gang empowered them to do something similar in their state or neighborhood, it would be healthy for all of us.
I can’t quantify the impact, but when we get personal messages from people I know our page has managed to not only change the narrative but in how much fun we’re having. We’re also changing what a stay-at-home dad looks like. In 2023 you’re still working from home. You’re able to be a provider. That doesn’t mean you’re not adding to the family financially, it just means you have figured it out.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO DO THIS WORK?
Definitely my kids. I think, honestly, anybody who just takes a leap and bets on themselves inspires me. I’ve grown very passionate about what I do, and I’ve learned that we’re all here to figure out how to be ourselves. I’m trying to tell my kids that the more you can be yourself, you can figure out how you can sustain your life even in your career.
A lot of men associate our career with our identity. I’ve been able to shift my mindset because the career isn’t the identity. It’s who we are and whatever else we do that encapsulates us. I follow Will Smith’s perspective, and one of his stories about growing up reminds me to tell more dads that they shouldn’t parent the way they were parented, instead assess what type of child they have. Boys don’t always need firmness. They might need a more gentle approach, which doesn’t make them any less of a boy, just change the approach.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION, YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
I think the impact that we wanted to leave was that, despite these stereotypes, these dads have managed to still be incredible and inspire other dads to be incredible, Black or not. The bigger goal was to change that misconception, but just also elevate the type of dads that we are going to be. Given how we are received in every city we visit, and the stories we’ve heard, I think we’re doing that.
I think overall success for us would be a total mindset shift in how we approach fatherhood and family planning. Of course, I would love to see The Dad Gang in every city or something like it. I’d love to see more dads getting together. I’d love to see businesses telling more stories about fatherhood. Now we’re going further than that mission of just changing the way the world views us, but that fatherhood begins once you find out you’re pregnant, you’re a dad. You should be your partner’s biggest advocate. I’d love to see more dad doulas. We’ve been looking into more dads getting involved with the pregnancy earlier, because a lot of times no one is telling us how to be supportive. We have a few dads in our group who have saved their wives’ lives by being a doulaes and knowing how to advocate for their partners.
Another thing that we’re trying to change is how we define masculinity. One of the campaigns we have is called the Son Kissed Project. Sometimes even the best dads stop showing their sons affection because they feel it’s going to make him soft, when it actually does the reverse. The newer dads have been really good with not holding back on giving their sons affection. Ultimately, we’re just trying to make a better approach, an approach that can change the way we define masculinity and the way we show up in the world.
WHAT CHALLENGES ARE YOU FACING?
We have been fortunate enough to not have too many roadblocks when it comes to building the platform. The challenge is that we’ve gotten so much exposure and we can’t handle the outreach. We can grow as rapidly or get to as many dads that would like to engage, but as we grow there are so many different issues that men are facing. My team is pretty small to handle all these issues. It’s impossible. Some of these dads are going through family court situations and they need advice. So we need to send them to someone to help. It’s figuring out how we can expand so we can help as many dads as possible. That’s a good challenge to have. I think in time, The Dad Gang is always going to be here, a new dad is being made every day. So the bigger we get, and the more access that we get, the more partnerships we get, the more we can handle the demand of the fathers that follow our organization. So our roadblock is figuring out how we can tackle as many issues as possible.
WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR CAUSE AND/OR THE WORK YOU’RE DOING?
A key takeaway would be that you’ve got to figure out what your purpose is and then share that purpose with everybody else. I think we need to have stronger faith in our abilities to let our purposes serve us and others. A lot of times we get caught up in the things we studied in college, or the things that we’re good at. Just because you’re good at something might not mean it’s your purpose. The journey is to figure out what way we can be ourselves and serve humanity. If more people could figure out how to be less self-serving, figure out their purpose and lean into that, I think the world would be a better place to be.
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
Please share and expose other people to The Dad Gang platform and the other work that we’re doing. We have a nonprofit, so we will accept any sort of help. Just follow, share, and support. Connect us with whoever can help us grow and tell our story. This is a platform that’s trying to tell the story of Black fatherhood. So whoever can help amplify that would help directly with the mission, which is to change the way the world views and celebrates fatherhood.
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