As the single father of an 11-year-old boy, Esery Mondesir says he's concerned about his son having to deal with racism.
"Raising a black man in a society where racial discrimination is a reality creates its own sort of challenges," said Mr. Mondesir, who arrived in Canada in 2007, after living in Haiti, who also has a daugher living in the United States. "It makes me anxious sometimes, questioning whether I'm doing the right thing."
Mr. Mondesir is one of several fathers telling their stories on video as part of a larger research project for Toronto's Black Daddies Club (BDC). The support group for black fathers, which has received a $50,000 grant from the city, wants to find out more about the fathers in their communities.
BDC founder Brandon Hay said black men from different backgrounds face obstacles related to employment access, systemic racism and stereotypes. One of the club's goals is to battle the notion that black fathers are absentee parents. The club first needs to tackle the lack of data. Since its beginning five years ago, Mr. Hay has sought research about the experiences of black fathers but he could not find any in Toronto, or even Canada, and he had to rely on U.S. studies.
Being "fatherless" is an issue for some black youth – Mr. Hay doesn't deny that. The father of three, whose own father wasn't around when he was growing up in Scarborough's Malvern neighbourhood, said it's time to look at the reasons why some fathers walk away from their families, and the benefits that come when they stick around.
Lance McCready, one of the professors working on the BDC project, said the goal is to look at more than 250 men from various social classes and situations, including fathers with different levels of involvement in their kids' lives.
"There are a lot of different situations and I think … one of the goals of the project is to really illustrate the range of experiences of black fathers so that we blow up any sort of stereotypes," said Prof. McCready, an associate professor of urban education at the University of Toronto's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE).
Blair Holder is another Toronto father telling his story for the BDC video project, which the group hopes will attract the hundreds of participants needed for its study.
He was 18 when his daughter was born. "At 18, you don't know what you don't know," he said. "So I thought I knew everything and I didn't."
After six years of shared custody, his daughter's mother left the country with two weeks' notice. Suddenly, he was a single dad at the same time he was starting law school. "I didn't have much time to adjust," he said. "It was pretty traumatic."
"Challenge No. 1 for being a young black man is knowing what … a positive, constructive, successful young black man is," said Mr. Holder, now 47 and an entertainment lawyer.
A study published last year, which examined 2006 census data, found that visible minorities in Canada reported they were in single parent households more frequently than non-visible minorities. Over all, 8.6 per cent of adult family members reported lone-parent status in Canada. Among those who indicated they had black backgrounds, 26.8 per cent had lone-parent status.
The author of the study, Lone-Parent Status Among Ethnic Groups in Canada, demographer Fernando Mata, said there's little academic Canadian research about single parents from minority backgrounds. (Mr. Mata also found there was an over-representation of lone-parent status among Aboriginal groups and people with Latin American backgrounds.)
Single parenthood by itself is not an issue, he said. "When you're looking at this cocktail with a mix of poverty, plus lone parenthood, plus being recent immigrants without family in the country, that can be problematic."
The BDC project was awarded the grant through the access, equity and human rights investment program. That it will attempt to "fill a gap in information about this community from a Canadian perspective" was among the reasons the city is providing funding, said Denise Campbell, City of Toronto director of community resources.
"It's one thing if a university were to do research on black fathers," she said. "It's another thing when it's a group of black fathers doing … participatory research."