Education & Family

How Dads United Organization is Helping to Set Black Fathers Up for Success

Since 2017, founder Michael Cornish has been connecting local dads to employment, health, and mentorship resources.

Michael Cornish made a series of regrettable decisions in his youth, but after learning that his son Naeem was entering the world, the Druid Heights HVAC technician says his whole perspective shifted.  

“I had never been in a position where I had to take care of somebody other than myself,” says Cornish, 36, whose son is now 12. “All of a sudden it hit me, like ‘Damn…I don’t know if I’m ready.’”

Concerns that he would fail as a new dad continued after Cornish received full custody of then-toddler Naeem eight years ago. He looked to city-funded resources for additional support. 

“I remember asking for a father and child shelter, and the lady kind of smirked at me, like, ‘What?’” Cornish recalls. “I was upset that there were no resources for fathers. Then I came to the realization that I wasn’t even advocating for fathers myself.”

To make a change, Cornish founded Dads United Organization (DUO) in 2017, with the goal of educating, advocating for, and unifying Black fathers in Baltimore, while also bringing dads and their kids together through community engagement. In addition to teaching fathers trade skills, appearing as character witnesses during court cases, and helping them prosper as entrepreneurs, DUO does its best to keep Baltimore clean, turning long-vacant city lots into vibrant green spaces and hosting community weed-pulling parties.

Past gatherings have included clothing and diaper drives, father-child game nights, and workshops on everything from anger management to advocating for custody, while upcoming events will teach members to make their own juices and medicinal salads. With all of the meetups, Cornish is intentional about providing opportunities for participants to learn something new. 

“I like to [find activities] the child doesn’t know and the father doesn’t know,” Cornish says. “A lot of times, we come to our children like ‘I know this. You don’t. Listen to me.’ But we’re rarely in a space where it’s like ‘Let’s learn this together and build.’ That’s what I try to do.”

Along with giving children opportunities to feel centered and valued, Cornish hopes that DUO provides a welcome space for all dads who are facing difficulties, which could range from mental health struggles to parenting with exes.

“When I look around, I see that mothers have communities,” he says. “All they have to do is yell one time, and there’s a community coming to help. But when a man yells for help, people run. I call it a vulture’s cry. When a vulture cries, it’s not adorable. It’s not cute. Sometimes it’s triggering, like ‘What comes after the cry?’”

Some dads face thoughts of suicide. A handful are returning citizens. Some don’t have access to their children due to legal situations. Cornish hopes they know DUO is there to lend a hand. 

“With the energy you’re investing in the community, and through helping people with their own children, you are building up [good] energy around you,” Cornish says. “I look at it like this: If dad is out there gardening, starting businesses, bonding, and helping other dads, their kids will say ‘Can I do that?’”

Overall, Cornish hopes that members walk away with tools to help them blossom into better fathers. 

“I can’t say that I’m the best father alive,” he says. “I’m not a lawyer. I can’t tell you how to get off child support. What I can say is, ‘We can spot you and put you in the direction of people who can help you.’”