‘Just to make sure she has everything that we didn’t’: Celebrating Black fathers this Father’s Day

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For several months, Stephen Wanjohi’s 6-year-old son was adamant about wearing khaki pants underneath his basketball shorts to school.

Wanjohi didn’t understand the logic, but then again, he said, “Kids nowadays, their style is different from how we dressed.” He remembers wearing basketball shorts underneath jeans growing up.

Then one day around three months ago, Wanjohi was dropping his kids off at school and noticed other students wearing basketball shorts with leggings underneath. The experience, he said, taught him to pay closer attention to what his children want to convey.

“He was trying to achieve that,” Wanjohi said. “But he couldn’t communicate that with me. And I felt like I had failed. I felt really bad. So that same morning, I gave his mom some money. I said, ‘Let’s go get him three, four pairs of leggings and a couple of pairs of basketball shorts.’ And he was so happy. He did not take them off for a whole week.”

Wanjohi and his family participated together in the Lawrence Juneteenth celebration in downtown Lawrence on Saturday. He and his wife had a table promoting their businesses in town — his, a tire shop called All4Tires, located at 1415 W. Sixth St., and hers, a candle line called My Candles by Davi.

His three kids, however, were gaining more traction than their parents, he said. Selling their handmade bracelets, Zipporah, 9, Zachary, 6, and Zuri, 3, could be seen Saturday playing in South Park, but they’d be popping back over to the table soon to check on their sales.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Stephen Wanjohi holds his youngest daughter, Zuri, at the Lawrence Juneteenth celebration.

As Father’s Day is recognized on Sunday, we interviewed three Black fathers who attended the Lawrence Juneteenth celebration, including Wanjohi, about their journeys — their life challenges and moments of joy.

“Before my firstborn was born, I didn’t know what to do with my life,” Wanjohi said. “I was just kind of existing. But being a father kind of gave me a purpose. And it’s funny, I was just talking with somebody about it yesterday — that feeling when I walk through the door and my kids run up and say, ‘Daddy, I love you,’ or ‘What did you bring us?’ You know, your own kids will love you unconditionally.”

For Michael Sherman, fatherhood has taught him about sacrifice, sometimes which meant living paycheck-to-paycheck. Although he resides in Olathe now, where he said he’s a Christian minister, he recently lived in Lawrence for several years and still considers it a home. He worked here passing out local newspapers and also did some deck contracting.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Michael Sherman attends the Lawrence Juneteenth celebration.

“Fatherhood taught me how to be more of a stand-up man,” Sherman said. “I knew the fact that I had kids to feed, I had to make sure they relied on me, so that means I had to get up in the morning and go punch the clock … I’d say, any father who has a child, be a loving father, be a kind father, be an understanding father. Your past don’t determine your future. It’s what you do today that will determine your tomorrow.”

Sherman has 18- and 16-year-old sons and a 17-year-old daughter. He smiles at their accomplishments, including his daughter breaking three track and field records at her school.

A first-time dad, Jonathan Smith said practicing patience has aided him in his personal journey and his new father role. And seeing other Black fathers showing up in their communities makes him proud.

“If you look around the room, if you’re in conferences and things like that, a lot of times you don’t see a lot of African American males,” Smith said. “So we just need to do a better job of stepping up and being there. And it’s an honor to be a father. It’s not something that we should run away from.”

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Jonathan Smith holds his daughter, Olivia, at the Lawrence Juneteenth celebration.

He and his wife have lived in Lawrence since 2020, and although they championed the move, not having any family close by has been a challenge. That’s why bringing their 18-month-old daughter, Olivia, out to the Juneteenth celebration on Saturday was so important — because “it’s very family-oriented” and “this is part of her culture,” he said. 

“Our main goal is just to make sure she has everything that we didn’t have when we were growing up,” Smith said.

Wanjohi echoed that sentiment. His parents immigrated from Kenya when he was young, making him a first-generation U.S. citizen.

“Having kids really made me grow up and really kind of helped change the direction of where my life was headed,” Wanjohi said. “It’s been really good having kids and watching them grow up, have their own personality. Now everything I do, I do because of them.”

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Stephen Wanjohi holds his youngest daughter, Zuri, at the Lawrence Juneteenth celebration.
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Jonathan Smith holds his daughter, Olivia, at the Lawrence Juneteenth celebration.
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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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Gray coneflower, Ratibida pinnata, is a long blooming native perennial whose name refers to the gray cone under the brown disk florets, here being visited by a bumblebee interested in their sweet nectar.

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