Stephen Silas grew up wanting to be like his father, longtime NBA coach and three-time champion Paul Silas. Their relationship, Silas says, was centered around the game, and looking back, his father’s influence has shaped the coach, and man, he is today.
“All of the things that he was great at seeped into me,” the Houston Rockets head coach told CoolxDad.
It’s powerful conversations like these that members of the Rockets, including Silas, Jae’Sean Tate and Josh Christopher recently had with Kevin Barnett, founder and CEO of non-profit organization CoolxDad, as a part of a meaningful “Father Day Special” campaign made in partnership with SLAM. Barnett, who is originally from Brooklyn, founded the organization in 2020 in hopes of amplifying and uplifting Black men and fathers in his community.
“We came up with this idea to really tie in the importance of what CoolxDad is and the community that we’re building and shedding light on Black fatherhood,” Barnett says over Zoom. “[When we sat down] with these players and the coach, [we saw] how their fathers believed in them, and how the] life lessons and direction and guidance has led them to be at the ultimate level.”
For Jae’Sean Tate, it was his father, Jermaine, who once sat him down and talked to him about being a man of the house. Tate, who admits that he had to grow up early at a young age remembers the moments where his father would go as far as to pull him off the basketball team whenever he got in trouble or let his grades slip up. “I didn’t finish a season until probably I was in seventh or eighth grade. Those were just some of the sacrifices he made for me, to teach me lessons,” Tate says.
Tate’s father, who played at Ohio State and Cincinnati before embarking on a pro career overseas, would push him workouts, too. They’d spend early mornings and late nights in the gym, and during those sessions, Jermaine had high expectations set: for every airball, Tate would have to do five pushups. “You miss a free throw, another five pushups added on,” he says.
Tate, who also played at Ohio State, has had to persevere through many personal hardships, including losing his mother at a young age. When he went undrafted in 2018, he played two seasons overseas in Belgium and Australia before signing with the Rockets in 2020. This past season, he averaged 11.8 points and 2.8 assists.
Barnett founded CoolxDad during the pandemic, as he watched innocent Black lives lost at the hands of police brutality. He was angry and frustrated.
“I had all mixed emotions you could think about, but a few emotions that really stood out was, I’m a Black man in America, and I’m also a father raising, now, two Black children in America. I was at a time where I was like, Man, I want to be a part of the change. But I have to do it in a way that is authentic to me, a way that I can feel that I’m not being forced or following. I was given a gift, and God gave me a gift of CoolxDad. He planted this idea of using the vehicle of fatherhood—something that I’m proud of [and] probably the best accomplishment I’ve ever accomplished in my life—as a way to bring authentic conversations to the forefront.”
When Josh Christopher was suiting up for Arizona State University, the Houston Rockets guard admits that, at one point, he was going through a tough time when his own father gave him the most valuable piece of advice. He’s continued to carry it with him, even today. “During that struggle, he was just telling me, the house is built for the storm not sunshine. That has stuck with me the most probably out of anything he’s ever told me. Another quote was, Adversity visits the strong and stays with the weak. That right there just tells me, you know, tough times obviously don’t last.”
For Barnett, he wanted to build CoolxDad into a community for men of color to feel a sense of belonging and encouraged them to be vulnerable and push past the stigmas associated with men of color that, in Barnett’s own words, “have combated us for our lives.”
“Stigma says that we’re deadbeat fathers. We’re not around, not supportive, or empathetic. But that’s not who we are. CoolxDad is a thriving community and provides [the] support necessary resources to bring back the holistic man so that he can see a better version of yourself.”
The non-profit first started with hosting a series of Zoom calls over the course of a month and half, where they opened up about everything from when is the right time to talk to your child about social injustice to opening up about their feelings about the current climate and death of George Floyd. The group initially included Barnett’s own close friends (“It was just the homies.”), but that quickly turned into 30, sometimes even 40 people hopping on the call.
“At that time, I didn’t know that I really wanted to start a non-profit right, I was just doing the mission.”
Now, CoolxDad has been established into a pinnacle of the Houston community that provides everything from their holiday gift drive initiative, Color Box, which is going on its third year. They’ve also donated toys and gifts to the Boys and Girls Club and the Big Brothers Big Sisters Foundation, as well as a partnership with the Contemporary Arts Museum, where they host a gift wrapping event with all the fathers in the community. The organization also offers financial and business literacy support, as well as mental health, wellness and mentorship opportunities.
“Nonprofit has a stigma [associated with it], especially in communities of color. [It’s like], here comes another nonprofit telling me what was wrong with me. Are they going to be here for six months or two months, and they’re out? We didn’t want that. What we wanted was to amplify Black culture [and] to make sure that we were being unapologetic and putting our culture at the forefront to ensure our culture that, yo, this were we resonate because this is what we’re here for. That’s what has propelled us to be in the seat that we’re in today because we’re using our culture, events, music, fashion, those [things] that we gravitate towards, that has helped coach us and get through hard times.”
Silas echoed this very sentiment. He credits a strong support system, especially fatherhood, to helping propel himself, and his players, to the level that they’re at today. That impact isn’t just limited to the basketball court, as CoolxDad is on a mission to show that building the foundation of a support system can also uplift an entire community and nurture the next generation.
“We wouldn’t be in the positions that we’re in if it weren’t for the foundation that was built by our parents and our dads in particular,” Silas says. “Especially in the Black community, you don’t necessarily see that very much, where you know, you’re getting set up or you get a foot in the door because of what your dad did for you. Hopefully this is kind of the start of it, to where, in all aspects of life, we’re opening doors so we can have the opportunities, and oftentimes, it takes somebody to pull you up or give you the benefit of the doubt, even when you have doubts yourself. To have the confidence, that, you’ll be fine. [Like], C’mon, I got you. It’s special.”
In March of 2021, they hosted CoolxHistory, their initiative to uplift black and brown heritage and culture. On June 25, the program will be throwing a Fathers Basketball Tournament at the Sunnyside Community Center that will feature live music and refreshments.
Barnett highlights the support of his own family, his wife, and running CoolxDad to helping transform him into the leader, father and Black man that he is today. He wants that for every father, and Black man, too, and with CoolxDad, he’s on a mission to provide an opportunity to connect, open up, and help eradicate social stigmas and injustices.
“We need to build this community, because without having something that we feel safe in and that we can subscribe to, we’re just out here chasing our tails in this rat race. But more importantly, we want to make sure that we bring people to the table to have these uncomfortable conversations, because that’s when understanding happens. And if we can continue to build on that, we can look at minimizing, to then eradicating, all of these social injustices and situations that we are seeing. And, also a real true perspective on our community.”
Shop the CoolxDad “Fatherhood Tee” now.
Photos by William Issac and Fred Agho.