Leading up to Father’s Day (June 21), we’re talking with Charlotte men as part of our “Black Dads Speak” series. It features brief conversations that meet at the intersection of being a Black man and a Black dad.
Our next dad is Justin Perry, owner and therapist at Perry Counseling, Healing and Recovery. The Charlotte native is also an advocate who speaks up on topics like housing, education and more.
Share your thoughts about the conversation at the end of the article. This interview was edited for brevity.
Father of a 6-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter.
Talk to me about how you’re doing.
I’m a range of things. I’m like a lot of people in that I have a lot of different emotions. I’ve been tired at some points, inspired at others. I’m hurt, but I’m determined.
How have you been able to balance that while still being helpful to others as a therapist?
I work very hard to be intentional about compartmentalizing when I’m working directly with a client. I’m making sure that it’s clear the session is for them and not me. When I’m out of that space, I do things to take care of myself.
Before the protests began, most of us were sheltering in place because of the coronavirus. What has that time been like, especially having your kids at home?
My wife and I have been fortunate to be able to stay employed and work from home. My 3-year-old definitely has more screen time than she normally would. We do what we can to make sure they know that we love them while explaining to them that we’re doing this for safety purposes.
Coming out to the rallies shows what the realities are. It’s having a 6-year-old son learn how to ride his bike and thinking to yourself that it would be great for him to ride around the neighborhood on his own. Then, thinking that it’s not even being worried about him getting kidnapped, it’s being worried about somebody profiling him or saying, “I don’t recognize that kid,” and then we’re in some kind of situation.
Have you had any specific conversations with your kids about the climate that we’re in?
I’ve been talking to my kids about race for a long time. My mom talked to me about race by the time I was 5, and she was a teacher. Being in an interracial marriage, my wife is white, early on, we wanted to make sure [our kids were] clear, so we’ve been having conversations around race.
With this situation, we talked about that part of our duty is to try to make the world more fair. I follow the lead of the questions they’re asking. I’m not going to show my kids videos. I’m not going to go into deeper details unless they ask.
Sadly, I feel like our kids have to be prepared earlier. And then you add in having to really understand where you fit in racially in our society. I have to equip them sooner. I want to be more proactive than reactive even though I can’t control everything.
What does fatherhood mean to you?
Fatherhood is one of the greatest gifts. It’s a blessing. It’s one of the greatest responsibilities, one of the greatest challenges. Fatherhood means putting somebody else before me. My son and my daughter are top priorities for me, and by extension, their mother is a top priority for me.
It means I have a duty to be an example and to teach my son how to be a great man. I have the responsibility to teach my daughter how to be a great woman. Also, for them to seek out friends and relationships with other people who want the best for them and want to bring out the best in them.
What would you want to see in Charlotte?
I’d like to see Charlotte actually value and prioritize its homegrown talent instead of constantly chasing somebody from afar. We have a lot of great talent that ends up taking their talents elsewhere, especially Black talent, especially Black women. They go and take their talent elsewhere because they don’t feel nurtured and cultivated here at home.
There’s also a disconnect within our own Black community between those experiencing prosperity and those who we talk about in the [mobility] study for Charlotte. I would like us to really stand in the gap for our folks who are most marginalized and not let ourselves be used for photo ops or names on lists. We have to be more reciprocal in this work. That’s something I’d love to see from Charlotte as a whole, but I’d also like to see that specifically in the Black community.