Local YMCA Father-Son Banquet continues strong tradition

by Shawn Nowlin


TRADITION– Honorees Gary (left) and father Julius Gaither pose with Ryan Bell, keynote speaker at the YMCA Father-Son Banquet held at Pilgrim Baptist Church on June 4, 2022 – Photo by S. Hale

Once again Father’s Day has come and gone stirring up the age-old assumption (by some) that old misconception that Black fathers are absent and rarely embrace their children. Enter Ryan     Bell, a father of four, who clearly stands against the tide as one committed to changing the way the world views Black fatherhood.

  On June 4, Bell served as a guest speaker at a traditional event whereby fathers, sons, and family gathered at Pilgrim Baptist Church to celebrate family and strengthen the community. Now in its 88th year, the annual Father and Son Banquet is the longest-running YMCA event in the area. This year’s sponsors were Hamlar-Curtis Funeral Home, Freedom First Bank, and United Way of the Roanoke Valley.

  After a resource and community fair, attendees enjoyed a ceremonial catered banquet, courtesy of Golden Corral. For his tireless commitment to the families of Northwest Roanoke, Xavier Duckett was this year’s Heart of the Father recipient.

Julius Gaither with daughter Michelle at the YMCA Father-Son Banquet held at Pilgrim Baptist Church June 4, 2022 – Photo by S. Hale

  Among those who spoke during the gathering was Council-member Joe Cobb. His stories about his father were well-received by all in attendance. Each year the banquet honors certain fathers in attendance with their sons. This year 92-year-old Julius Gaither accompanied by his son Gary, 72, and daughter Michelle was recognized. During his comments, Cobb told of the Gaithers being honored at the banquet in the early sixties while a photo of the two flashed on a big screen providing the perfect visual of the moment.

  “When I was ten years old, during the spring of 1972, I found myself interested in watching golf on TV. I was so intrigued by the sport that I asked my dad if I could learn how to play it. Dad wasn’t a golfer, but he was a teacher,” Cobb said. “We went to the garage where he had everything a dad would need to create and build anything. I can remember asking him time after time why he had so much stuff? He would just say to me with a smile, “you never know when you might need it.’”

   Cobb continued to speak highly of his father who passed two years ago at age 88 and spoke of how he always found a way to teach, encourage and listen to his dreams. “I could feel and see his love,” he said delicately.

 “We here tonight see the potential and possibility within each other and we also understand the critical importance in celebrating each other,” said Cobb in closing remarks that seemed to somehow appropriately christen the moment.

  Ryan Bell was 23 when he welcomed his first son into the world. Today, he and his wife Tarasha have a blended family of two 10-year-old boys, a six-year-old boy, and an eight-month-old girl.

  A few years ago, Bell founded the Black Father Family Initiative, a community organization with a mission of “creating a space for Black fathers to find meaningful connections, support, and resources to promote the health, well-being, and success of children, families, and communities.”

  Bell’s talk centered on the importance of “what it means to leave a legacy to your children.” Through an in-depth analysis, he proceeded to break down the dynamics of true fatherhood using his own father Carlton Bell, a noteworthy school principal in southern California as an example to follow. With a sort of how to be a positive influence on your children approach, Bell proceeded to recount the many ways his father led him and his two siblings to higher ground.

Like all fathers, Bell passionately believes that taking care of your children “should be the reason you breathe.” When his first child was born, Bell vowed to be the type of father his dad was – someone that could always be depended on.  

“Honoring and celebrating the essence of Black fatherhood is something that our community should certainly do more of,” he said. “My dad was my biggest role model growing up. He passed away two years ago, and I think about him every single day. He’s the catalyst for everything a father should be,” said Bell – a man on a mission to change the fatherhood narrative.

Organizers say the 89th annual Father-and Son Banquet is scheduled to return next year and will surely inspire and promote the institution of fatherhood as it has for years. For more information, visit ymcavbr.org