This year, both Juneteenth and Father’s Day will be celebrated on June 19, providing a unique opportunity to reflect on Black fatherhood. Men of Change, a group of leaders and elders from Wheeling’s Black community, understand better than anyone the significance of this day and are actively working to strengthen their community not just for their children, but all children in need of some extra help. Many of these men are fathers, making this weekend’s celebrations even more special.
Men of Change’s mission is to empower, uplift and educate our community while serving as positive role models and a support system for young Black men. They’ve hosted back-to-school giveaways, a holiday toy drive, community bike rides, and so much more since their group was created in 2020.
With both Juneteenth and Father’s Day sharing the spotlight this Sunday, Weelunk checked in with a few members of the Men of Change to have them share their thoughts on the significance of this day and how they provide strength and guidance to the next generation of children in their lives. Here’s what they had to say:
From a young age, Daryl Johnson found community, discipline and fun through sports. Growing up without a father, Daryl looked to men in East Wheeling like Rod Lee and Boobie Walker who he said served as his role model both in athletics and life. “Those were our role models up on the hill [Lee and Walker], they taught us to give back to the community,” said Daryl. “I’ve always taken that with me to this day.”
Being community-minded with a passion for sports, when Daryl’s sons took an interest in football he happily took a leadership role in the Little Patriots Football League. While it’s been years since sons Savion, 24 and Amare, 14 have participated in the Little Patriots League, Daryl continues to run the organization to help give young football players the same experience his children had while growing up.
As a member of Men of Change, he hopes to continue to give back and be the type of role model like the ones he had growing up in East Wheeling. Daryl has a deep understanding of how it feels to grow up without a father and Men of Change is helping to provide support to children with a variety of backgrounds. “We are really trying to bring to light to younger kids that there are men here who can be positive role models for them, and sports is a big help too.”
As a father of four, Chad Stradwick is raising his kids to show kindness and respect to everyone. “The way you treat people says everything about you,” said Chad. He explained that just this week he had the chance to put this lesson into action while eating out at a local restaurant. With power outages and longer wait times, he used the less-than-ideal situation as an opportunity to teach his children a lesson in patience and understanding. Chad explained, “I told them that no matter what happens we were going to treat this lady [the server] with respect and we’re going to treat her with dignity because she’s feeling overwhelmed too.”
Chad brings the same values he imparts to his children to his work with the Men of Change. “I want to make sure that young Black people in the city that we have the power to have a smooth transition into our lives and into adulthood.” Chad referenced a quote from author G. Michael Hopf’s novel Those Who Remain that says“hard times create strong men, strong men create good times” – he believes that this is the ethos of Men of Change. These are men who have endured some sort of adversity throughout their lives, but are using their experiences to create a better future for themselves and the next generation.
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With Juneteenth and Father’s Day both falling on the same day this year, Chad is looking forward to a day full of family and celebration. He plans to celebrate Father’s day in the afternoon with his kids and extended family, and will head to Market Plaza in the evening to partake in the Wheeling Area Juneteenth Celebration. “I’m excited to see how it goes. This will be my first one [community Juneteenth celebration], so I’m excited. I’m anxious. I’m feeling all of the feelings. I just hope for a good turnout and that everyone thinks it’s awesome.”
Among many things, Isaiah Alford is a musician, coach, Men of Change member, and most importantly, a father to his six-year-old daughter Zuri. As Isaiah describes his daughter, you can’t help but notice the pride radiating through his voice. “It’s like an out-of-body experience watching her develop her own personality which is such a blend of me and my wife,” Isaiah explains. “She loves to be happy and have fun. You can tell right away if she’s comfortable around you because she’s such a goofball. She surprises me all the time with her heart and generosity. We couldn’t be more blessed.”
Isaiah credits the men in his life who have shaped him into the man and father he is today. His own father in particular has always provided him with sound, level-headed advice and support. His two older brothers, Reggie and Jason also served as father figures who taught him to “work hard, grind, and never settle.” There have also been countless coaches and mentors through the years ao have provided discipline and structure from his little league days through high school. Isaiah shared that a unifying lesson learned from these role models is the importance of paying it forward. “They were fortunate enough to have good people in their lives growing up, and when it was their time to step up to do the same they did.” This has had a profound impact on Isaiah’s approach to life, which is evident in his involvement with Men of Change and his passion for coaching football and mentoring young musicians.
Men of Change has become an important outlet for Isaiah to continue to pay it forward by becoming more involved in the community he calls home. He notes that fatherhood is what motivated many of the founding members of Men of Change to come together. “We all have kids living in this community and we are going everything in our power to give our kids a better quality of life,” said Isaiah. “Not everyone is going to be rich or get everything they want in life, but we can give our kids a good quality of life.” He continues by emphasizing the importance of community and that smaller towns like Wheeling truly thrive when we interact with our neighbors and look out for one another.
Isaiah will be one of the featured performers at this year’s Wheeling Area Juneteenth Celebration on Sunday, June 19 at Market Plaza. His hope is that more people take time to learn about the history of Juneteenth and celebrate in whatever way they can. You can learn more about this year’s Juneteenth Celebration here, or by visiting WheelingJuneteenth.com.
Happy Father’s Day and Happy Juneteenth from all of us at Weelunk!
How do you celebrate and talk to your children about Father’s Day and Juneteenth? Let us know in the comments below.
• Alex Panas is the Program Manager for Wheeling Heritage, where she works with artists, small business owners, and community stakeholders to provide technical assistance and create meaningful programs that enhance Wheeling. She also serves as the managing editor for Weelunk. Alex lives in St. Clairsville with her husband where they raise four cats and four spunky backyard chickens.