African-American literature has a long history originating back to slave narratives in the 18th century. These collections of writings were very significant because African Americans were breaking the stigma of being deemed unintelligent by the white public. These stories or memoirs were created from various experiences of violence that stretched from slavery, to the abolitionist movement, to the Jim Crow Era. Prime examples of these hardships are shown through the poetry written by slaves who were taken from Africa and who learned English upon reaching US soil. Britannica states, “(Lucy) Terry was considered a born storyteller and poet. Her only surviving work, the poem ‘Bars Fight’ (1746), is the earliest existing poem by an African American.” Her story did not appear in print until 1855 because like traditional African narratives, it was told orally for years. This poem on the attack of white families by Native Americans was the first of many published works that spurred African Americans to share their truth.
From Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) and his autobiographies along with work for abolition, to Octavia Butler (1947-2006) with her famous science fiction writings, African Americans have broadened their horizons on various genre and writing styles over many years. Many of the well-known writers were also proficient in their public speaking. Today, audiences from around the country are inspired by keynote Black speakers that project motivation and guidance to people of all ages backgrounds. Lavita Stokes is one woman who focuses on reaching out to young girls, fathers, and mothers in hopes of stirring empowerment in their lives.
Lavita Stokes is a Canton, Ohio, native who currently resides in Columbus, Ohio, and works as the CEO/President of LARS Properties and as the Vice President of Finance at Three-Leaf Productions. Aside from her business work, she strives to inspire and impact the lives of as many people as she can with her life stories and mentorship. Her talent for writing began at a young age and came naturally to her. However, her reason for writing her first book stemmed from the lack of a father throughout her childhood. Her book, A Father’s Love, self-published in 2009, was written to share her experience of growing up fatherless.
“I did not have a father in my life, which led me to write a book to help fathers understand the important role they play in their children’s lives, especially their daughters,” Stokes says. “I truly feel that our fathers are supposed to be the first ones to tell us they love us.”
Personal photo of Lavita Stokes at her first book signing
Stokes is one of many women that have grown up without a father figure. To address this we must first dive into the myth of the absent black father. This issue claims that the absence of a black father in the home is a nationwide epidemic. The Washington Post states, “By focusing on the supposed absence of black fathers, we allow ourselves to pretend this oppression is not real, while also further
scapegoating black men for America’s societal ills.” The media puts a spotlight on black kids growing up to be apart of gangs, violence, failing school, and eventually using drugs and being incarcerated. Studies also try to bring to light stereotypical assumptions even when the black father IS present. According to Dallas News, “Positive depictions of black fatherhood are often ignored or dismissed as atypical by many. According to much of the research, black fathers actually do more ‘dad stuff’ than fathers from other ethnic groups. Yet we still suffer from the stigma of perceived absenteeism.”
Aside from the myth, there are many factors that come into play as to why black fathers either appear to be absent or have actually stepped out of their children’s lives. For one, slavery has left a lingering legacy of family separation.
AAIHS references from the New York Public Library read, “’(1853) Husbands, wives, and families sold indiscriminately to different purchasers, are violently separated; probably never to meet again.’” Children were significant in the slave business because they were young and valuable. Today, black families are separated by mass incarceration where, “Black people are imprisoned at more than 5 times the rate of whites… and one in 10 black children has a parent behind bars, compared with about one in 60 white kids,” according to The Marshall Project. Along with poverty in certain areas, there is also the issue of racial disproportionality and disparity in child welfare. A lack of structure for generational wealth also contributes to systematic barriers for black families. These cause children, especially young women, to grow up feeling emotionally disconnected with their relationships and personal well-being. Stokes strives to grow from her past and share this with others so that these cycles won’t continue.
Everyone has his or her own story to tell. Stokes explains, “The question is how do you want your story to be told? I was born to a teenage mother, into poverty, with no father in my life and subsequently was raised by my grandmother. I had to break the generational curse.” She overcame her struggles with a dysfunctional home life and wants to show the youth that it’s not how you start in life, but it’s how you finish and whom you inspire along the way.
Stokes uses the power of her words to better the lives of this current generation of black youth. “When I speak to youth, especially young girls, my message to them is you have to love yourself first. You have to respect you first and when you do that not only will your peers respect you, but the young man will know he cannot disrespect you.” Stokes preaches that self-love is very important for overall success in life and happiness. She stresses to not let the world run your life. You as an individual have a story to tell, and if there are obstacles in your path there is always another one to walk on.
Stokes speaking at the 2018 MBE Ohio Awards
Stokes continues to speak to youth throughout the Columbus area at high schools and middle schools. She is also working on another book with her husband on sustaining happiness within marriage. “I plan on continuing to speak and empower our youth, including educating fathers and mothers,” she says. She hopes to help them understand the need for fathers to be in their children’s lives. This leadership will motivate them to reach their greatest potential regardless of their background or where they come from. She says, “In my eyes, there is greatness within all of us.”Lavita with her daughters, Amber and Sydney, with a group of incoming freshman girls, Class of 2020
Visit Lavita’s website here.