How Black Fathers Rock! in Charlotte Is Changing the Narrative About Black Fathers

(left to right) Ryan Jor El with his family Grayson, Peyton, Yora-Queen, and Tracy Coleman. Photo courtesy of Ryan Jor El.

By Vanessa Infanzon

June 15, 2023

Charlotte TV personality Ryan Jor El founded Black Fathers Rock! in July 2017 to shine a light on fathers who may not get the recognition they deserve.

When former Charlotte’s WCNC evening anchor Fred Shropshire received Father of the Year award from the nonprofit, Black Fathers Rock! in 2018, he was honored. He’d faced many obstacles after a divorce, custody issues and co-parenting his three children with his former wife. 

“That award was a confirmation and a validation for me,” Shropshire says. “It came at a time when I felt like I was walking an uphill journey.”

Shropshire was one of several Black fathers who received awards that day. The event gave people the chance to see the diversity in Black dads—from businessmen, doctors, and lawyers to nonprofit organizers and men who have been incarcerated. 

“We all care about our kids,” he says. “Black Fathers Rock! does highlight how Black fathers are involved, are hands-on. Historically, perception has been about the absent dad, the deadbeat dad. The dad who is not engaged at all. And that’s simply not the truth.”

Fred Shropshire with his three children. Photo courtesy of Fred Shropshire

Charlotte TV personality Ryan Jor El founded Black Fathers Rock! in July 2017 and held the first awards show the following February. This year, the 6th Annual Black Fathers Rock! Awards Celebration took place June 10 at the IV Stones Events Center in Charlotte. 

Jor El hosts the annual family-friendly event, which includes a cocktail reception, live music, a 360 photo booth and videos of each award-winning father interacting in his community. Awards were presented to dads in categories such as Activist of the Year, Dapper Dad of the Year, Entrepreneur of the Year, and Father of the Year. 

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Jor El started his career in the fashion industry. He graduated from UNC Charlotte with a business management degree in 2009. He’s currently in banking and hosts fashion shows and other special events in Charlotte. Jor El was a regular on WCCB News Rising for more than three years.

He’s the father of two children and stepfather to his wife’s children. Jor El’s featured in “Man Up,” a 40-minute documentary about how three Black fathers face the challenges of parenthood. He and his wife, Tracy Coleman, also host REALationship Talk, an online web show about love and marriage.

BFR is inspired by Black Girls Rock!, an empowerment group celebrating women and girls of color. Jor El saw a commercial about the organization and wanted something similar for fathers in the Charlotte area. He wrote down his ideas for an awards show and shared them with a fellow UNC Charlotte alum who helped Jor El plan the first show in 2018.

“Celebrating other Black men who are doing things in their community and in their home, is my way of changing the narrative,” he says. “Not all of us are absent, not all of us are in jail. Let’s showcase that.”

BFR’s awards bring to light the success stories of fathers who may not get the recognition they deserve. Kenneth Robinson, a father to seven children, was named the Comeback Father of the Year at the award ceremony last week. 

Robinson started Freedom Fighting Missionaries, a nonprofit to connect those who have been incarcerated to resources and services. After he served 10 years in federal prison, Robinson struggled to land a job. The nonprofit is his way of making sure he can help others make the transition from prison to reintegration.

“The Comeback Father of the Year award is given to someone who has overcome a major life challenge and never let it stop them from being a father to their kids,” Jor El says. “Once they recovered, they returned to being the best father they can be.”

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  • Vanessa Infanzon

    Vanessa Infanzon moved from New York to NC for college and never left. When she’s not writing, she’s paddle boarding at the Whitewater Center.

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