Black History Month provided us all with the perfect opportunity to reflect on the achievements of Black fathers throughout the course of history. Jeff Johnson also wants to ensure that the everyday dads who hold it down for their families—and who might never be immortalized by history books—have an advocate, too.
That’s why he’s created Journacy: a brand and community that’s a natural evolution of his long-standing commitment to Black fatherhood—as well as the men who comprise its ranks. And in speaking exclusively to The Root, the former BET’s Man Cave host discussed what it means to be a parent in today’s world and why it’s more important than ever for Black dads to enjoy the journey while forging their own legacy.
For the 47-year-old father of five, Journacy—a portmanteau of “journey” and “legacy”—was a passion project born out of necessity.
“I’m a ‘crib to college’ dad,” he began. “I’ve got a 21-year-old, a 19-year-old next month, [an] 18 [year-old], a three-year-old and a two-year-old. For almost 22 years, I’ve been a father. I’ve been a Black father. And I don’t remember when somebody created a product specifically for Black dads.”
He continued, “I’ve just been thinking about it, man. I thought to myself, ‘Where’s the legitimate communities where dads can talk about dad shit? Where are the places where it’s not just about narrative change? [...] I wanted to see a product that specifically spoke to the unique journey that fathers are on to create a legacy for their kids. And thus that’s where Journacy comes from.”
Johnson also understands the importance of community, and how often times Black dads are deprived of the playdates or Facebook groups in which they are formed.
“I wanted to create a community,” he said. “Being a dad at 26, man, I didn’t know shit. I wanted to be a dad, I was happy to be a dad, but I didn’t know anything. I think about becoming a father again at 45 and what I had to give was just so much more. But more than that, I knew cats I could call. And be like, ‘Oh, talk to me about this’ or ‘I had a crazy-ass day with the boys today,’ you know? ‘Help me do this’ or ‘I’m navigating how I’m trying to save money for college. Tell me about this.’ Dads need dads, man. And in short, that’s what Journacy is about.”
One of the biggest challenges facing Black fathers today is, of course, the coronavirus pandemic. And while it’s presented more than its fair share of challenges, Johnson sees it as an opportunity to strengthen familial bonds.
“I think for a lot of fathers, this pandemic has refocused how they want a father,” he said. “Like, ‘Yeah, I’m busy, but I ain’t that on the grind for me not to have intentional time with my kids.’ I think for a lot of fathers who had been consistently even more engaged, I think it helped figure out, ‘How am I better assessing the mental and emotional space of my kids?’
He continued, “I think that a lot of us as fathers have rethought really what legacy is like. What am I actually building for? What am I actually leaving for my children? Is it just money? Is it economic stability? Or is it a legacy of experiences, where my babies remember the time that I spent and the play that we did and the books that we read and the stories that we told?”
While this pandemic has created plenty of uncertainty, Johnson hopes that Journacy will help Black fathers not to operate from a position of fear while raising the next generation of kings and queens.
“I stand on the shoulders of my father, who stood on the shoulders of his father and his mother, who stood on the shoulders of,” he said. “They made sacrifices, but they also made mistakes. They did this so that I could have the life that they could never have.”
He added, “[I told my daughter] your job is to see things the previous generations couldn’t see to solve things the previous generation couldn’t solve. [...] I think so often we want our kids to become what we didn’t versus manifesting the call on their life in a way that is so aggressively profound that we don’t even understand how it works. That to me is what parenting is about. How can we prepare our babies for what we’re never going to understand?”
And coming to realizations such as these is much easier when you have a community of like-minded individuals whose experiences can enlighten and inform your own.
“I want to create something for Black fathers that are redefining what fatherhood is,” Johnson said. “I want to create a space where Black dads can talk to other Black dads about things they need. We’re literally less than a year old, man. So we’re building this thing out. We’re launching a whole series of content this month called ‘Dads Need Dads’.”
He continued, “Dads normally know two things: They know what they do great and what they need to learn. And every single dad does something great, and every single dad needs to learn something. The fact that you got a baby is all that matters. And if you want something for them, that’s all that matters. [...] And that’s what makes me so excited about Journacy: the brothers that I know that are not looking to anybody else to define for them what fatherhood means. They’re redefining it for themselves in just brilliantly beautiful ways.”
To learn more about Journacy’s premiere collection and its supportive community for Black fathers, visit their website.