This month, our “Life Cycles of Inequity” series focuses on fatherhood. We challenge the widespread, easy assumptions about black fatherhood that so often pathologize black families. In the video above, our series’ filmmaker André Robert Lee speaks with a pastor in New Haven, Conn., whose life reveals one of the many things about black family that gets overlooked in the constant handwringing about a crisis of black fathers. For centuries, black families have had a tradition of communal parenting. This tradition stretches back to our West African roots and it was among the cultural tools we used to survive slavery in the Americas and the terrorism of 20th century segregation–both of which actively sought to destroy black family units. The tradition continues to buttress black families navigating today’s endemic poverty and the abuses of the criminal justice system. Father Mathis and the men for whom he has been a surrogate father share their stories with Colorlines, and we thank them.

Throughout 2014, Colorlines is examining the structural  inequities that shape the lives of black men. Too often, we zero in on black men only at their point of premature death. Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant–and on it goes in a grim roll call. But what if these men had lived? What lives would they face? On a whole host of issues, the data suggests they’d have faced massive, sometimes insurmountable odds against safe, healthy and prosperous lives. Our “Life Cycles of Inequity” series focuses each month on a different life stage or event in which those odds have been shown to be particularly long, thanks to structural inequities that grow out of our nation’s collective political and economic choices. 

You can check out the entire series here and join the conversation on Twitter, Facebook and all social media with the hashtag #LivesOfBlackMen.