HBCU Sports

For these HBCU student-athletes, fatherhood comes first

Young dads draw inspiration from their own life experiences — both good and bad — while helping raise their children, often from afar

For student-athletes who have children, balancing parenthood, schoolwork and team activities can prove challenging.

In honor of Father’s Day, seven male student-athletes from various historically Black colleges and universities spoke with Andscape about their growth as fathers, lessons learned and hopes for their children.

Fatherhood hasn’t been a linear transition for many of these young dads; several said their experiences have been shaped by their own fathers’ influence, while others discussed breaking generational cycles to be present for their children.

These stories have been edited for length and clarity.

Jay Boyd, Shaw University

Shaw University football player Jay Boyd said his father’s efforts to provide for his family have motivated Boyd to do the same for his 3-year-old son, Jamära.

Jay Boyd

Jay Boyd is a free safety and rising senior on Shaw University’s football team. Boyd, a native of Brevard County, Florida, is the father of a 3-year-old son named Jamära (pronounced Jah-mar-ee-ay). While Boyd is at school pursuing his degree in exercise science and pre-athletic training, Jamära lives in Florida. 

My first reaction was pretty shocked – I called my mom. I was excited, though.

It’s not as hard as I imagined it would be, honestly. But the No. 1 thing I’ve learned was patience – that’s the one thing I had to work on a lot. That was the one thing my father told me I had to work on before I worried about having kids. [Jamära] is teaching me to have patience. Before him I had absolutely no patience at all.

Patience applies to everyday life. I don’t rush through things anymore. I don’t procrastinate about things. I understand I have a responsibility to take care of – it’s not just me out here. So I have to be patient and let things fall in the way they’re supposed to. If I try and force things, it might not turn out how it needs to be.

Me and my dad are super close. He’s always been there for me from jump-start. So it’s never really been a time where I felt like I needed to lean toward someone else. He was a military guy, so he was always pretty straightforward about a lot of things, but he’s also understanding at the same time. So it made it really easy to talk about things and go to him in certain situations in life where I didn’t think I could really lean on no one else.

I completely look up to my dad. Everything that man did from the time I was born till today has always been to make sure it was something good for his kids or make sure we were always in a better position. So that motivates me to do the same thing.

My professors have been completely supportive. They know exactly what’s going on. If there’s not a Zoom call, they will tell me, “Don’t miss class. Bring him in with you.” … They’re definitely supporting me throughout everything.

I was out of school two years. I sat out 2020 and 2021. I wasn’t going back to school and really didn’t have no intention of playing football. … I was just going to work. But when my baby mom got pregnant, it was like, I got a son now. I have to make sure he’s alright. That’s just the main goal now – doing whatever I got to do to get this degree and take us to the next level.

Now I’m hoping to be the first person in my family to graduate college at all, so that would be, like, a huge accomplishment and something [my son will] know, like, “Yeah, my dad did it. I can definitely do it, too.” That’s why I’m trying to get this degree [so] when I’m done I can make it better for him. So he doesn’t have to grow up the way I grew up and be around none of the stuff I was around. That’s what I’m working toward. 

I just want him to know to always be himself and never feel like you need to fit in with the crowd. Always just stand on his manhood, whatever he feels like is making him a better man. … I make sure he knows – I’m gonna support you. You’re my son. You’re a part of me.

Cahiem Brown, Norfolk State University

Norfolk State University basketball player Cahiem Brown spends the day with his two children, Amelia, 5, and Cayson, 2. “I just tell my son all the time: Be a leader. Don’t be a follower. And I tell my daughter that she’s got to guide him because she’s the oldest,” Brown said.

Cahiem Brown

Norfolk State guard Cahiem Brown has a 5-year-old daughter named Amelia and a 2-year-old son named Cayson. Brown, a native of Brooklyn, New York, graduated from Norfolk State in May. Brown’s children lived in his hometown while he played basketball for the Spartans. He is currently pursuing a professional basketball career.

[Fatherhood] means everything to me. I lost my mom when I was 7 years old. So my dad stepped up to be the father that he has been, and that has helped me become the great father that I am right now. I am who I am right now because of the support that I have received. So just changing the narrative and showing people that there are fathers out there that are African American that actually do want to be in their kids’ life and can do it with 100% confidence. I love doing what I do, and I love being a dad.

[Fatherhood] was probably one of the best times I’ve been through as far as finding out who I am as a person. It allowed me to really focus and understand my reason why, but it was difficult to the extent I had to learn how to dictate being a father and student-athlete at the same time. Being a father and a student-athlete, that helped me to realize that, you know, when you’re going through things, don’t bring outside baggage onto the court.

I just tell my son all the time: Be a leader. Don’t be a follower. And I tell my daughter that she’s got to guide him because she’s the oldest, because [her brother] looks up to her also. So I just tried to get it in their mind to be mentally strong. Now they understand what I’m doing. They talk to me, they ask questions. They don’t get upset. 

No matter how long I’m away, every time I speak to them, every time I see them, every time I hug them the energy doesn’t change. They still treat me like I’m “Super Dad.” So knowing that they support me a whole lot gives me more confidence to go out and do what I do.

The example has already been set. To be honest, a lot of people don’t make it out of that [his hometown environment], a lot of people don’t get to go to college and graduate. And I’ve accomplished that. The only thing that I really want to continue to do is to continue to build a fortune and build a safe environment for them to grow up healthy, happy and able to be financially free.

Jada Byers, Virginia Union University

Virginia Union University running back Jada Byers has always encouraged his daughter, Azerlyn, to use her voice, especially when she had a tracheostomy tube after being born with gastroschisis.

Jada Byers

Virginia Union running back Jada Byers has a 2-year-old daughter named Azerlyn and a 10-month-old son named Jayden. Azerlyn was born with gastroschisis, a birth defect where a hole in the abdominal wall allows intestines and organs to form outside of a baby’s body.

Last year during his sophomore season Byers, a native of Hammonton, New Jersey, was a finalist for the Harlon Hill Trophy, which is given to the most valuable player in Division II football. While Byers attends school in Virginia, his children live with their respective mothers in New Jersey.

When I first found out [about becoming a father] it was when I was at Sacred Heart [University] and I was at a tough spot in life. … Where I’m from, like, everybody’s [saying], “Oh, Jada just having a baby. Oh, his dreams is done.” Like, everybody thought it would be another “should’ve, could’ve” and I wasn’t. Having a baby brought joy to my life, but when we had to go to hospital visits and all that it was hard finding out things that was wrong with my child while she was developing. … My daughter spent her first 10 months in a hospital. So me being at school, missing time while she was at the hospital, it was really hard. 

Virginia Union’s Jada Byers has been teaching his 10-month-old son, Jayden, how to walk.

Jada Byers

Seeing my daughter not giving up – she made my life so much easier because my daughter could’ve given up at any time, so it made me go even harder. It’s like, “Wow, my daughter is going through all this [and] I’m going through a rough time in school and doing what I have to do. I’m not giving up.”

My daughter taught me how to never give up, and my son just taught me how to stay strong, stay humble. When I’m with my daughter I’ve been trying to tell her, like, you never have to be afraid to talk. Because at first she had a [tracheostomy tube], she used sign language. I used to tell her, like, use your voice. Now we’re doing nursery rhymes like “The Wheels on the Bus,” and she knows every nursery rhyme that you name.

I still call my dad every day. When I say my dad is my best friend, I don’t think nobody calls me more than him. … Every day he actually asks me how I’m feeling – mind, body and soul. We have a great talk and that’s how it always is. He’s a great man himself, and he taught me to be the best one I can be. [Fatherhood] feels great because it’s like I’m not playing for me no more. I’m playing for them and making their life better and making sure they get everything they wanted that I didn’t have as a child and just showing them that everything can be done.

The influence I want to leave on their life is that their dad was an honest man, not just known for being the best football player from New Jersey or from Virginia Union. I just want them to know that their dad was a 100% great man, and I want them to build their own legacy. I’ma leave stuff behind for them, but if I want my son to have his own legacy I have to give him his own name instead of making him a junior living behind me. That’s how it was with me and my dad.

Marquis Godwin, Hampton University

Hampton University basketball player Marquis Godwin and son, Marlo, celebrate Godwin’s senior night during the Pirates’ game against Monmouth University on March 3.

Marquis Godwin

Marquis Godwin, a native of Hampton, Virginia, was a guard for Hampton’s men’s basketball program. Godwin, who graduated from Hampton in May, has a 1-year-old son named Marlo. Godwin spent his final two seasons with the Pirates balancing school and basketball while living with his girlfriend and their son. Godwin is currently training to pursue a professional basketball career overseas.

My initial reaction [to the pregnancy] was kind of scary. At the beginning, I was nervous … because I found out the night after a game. I slept on it and the next morning I woke up and I was like, I’m ready to do this. … I would just mentally prepare myself those nine months prior to Aug. 23 [Marlo’s birthdate], so I think I was ready before he finally got here with us.

To be a father means [maintaining] your effort and your enthusiasm toward your child. Like I say, you’re human, so you’re going to be naturally upset some days, you’re going to be happy some days, but no matter your attitude your behavior should never affect your relationship with your child. Never take any anger or highs or lows out on them. Make sure that they get the same person every single time no matter what’s going on in your life. Because your child didn’t ask for that. They just asked for you to be a good parent and love them … and just never give up on your child. Some days you might not financially be set, but your time and your heart is always gonna be there.

Being a student-athlete still trying to finish and get my degree – I had a lot on my plate. I figured it out and now I’m at a point where I’m finished school now. I’m just glad I was able to do it with him because it made me more focused every day to do so. I just had to cut out fun time. During college years you want to have fun and go out and enjoy it, the last year among your colleagues that you been in school with, but I couldn’t do that. I had to focus on basketball because I know that it was what I wanted to do the rest of my life to provide for my family, my son.

I’ve learned that I’m a very patient person. I think that being a parent, that grows with you. You have to understand that to be patient is not always on your time now – it’s someone else’s time now. My son taught me honestly to keep getting back up. … He might trip over something but it doesn’t discourage him at all. He continues to try to go back and do it again until he gets it. 

Just having my son available with me this past season put a chip on my shoulder because I knew he was watching. … I really appreciate it, my coaches letting me do that, because a lot of people might not allow your son to come through this journey with you. But my teammates embraced him, [and] faculty at Hampton University did, too. 

On Fridays [Marlo and I] have a little bonding time. I go get him a doughnut – he really enjoys that. He’s been accustomed to coming around me now at the gym and so forth, so he was always in the gym with me this past season. My coach allowed me to bring my son to practice a few times throughout the year to get him involved. … We like to read a lot. My son’s really into the books at a young age. Before bedtime he will pick up a book, bring it over to me. He will hit my leg and say basically, like, “Come on, let’s go read.”

What I really took from my father was discipline and being able to listen and also being able to pay attention. … I appreciate my dad instilling that into me and just being a Black father. In today’s world I really feel like that’s important. Raising a son in this world now, we have a lot of distractions and a lot of stuff that [our sons] can be influenced by to go the wrong direction. So just making sure I’m keeping [Marlo] on track, following in the same footsteps that my dad put me in, I think Marlo’s gonna be fine.

I know for me, when I sign – God willing – my first professional contract I’m definitely going to look at my son and say, “Thank you.” Because I don’t know if I would be where I’m at if he wasn’t here.

Esaias Guthrie, Jackson State University

Jackson State University defensive back Esaias Guthrie and his son, Elias, share a moment after the Tigers’ 2023 spring game in April. “My son comes first, no matter what’s going on. If he calls I’m there, and that’s understood across the board,” Guthrie said.

Esaias Guthrie

Esaias Guthrie is a native of Middletown, Delaware, and a former all Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference defensive back who transferred to Jackson State in January. Guthrie, a redshirt sophomore, has a 1-year-old son named Elias. His son lives in Delaware while Guthrie attends school in Jackson, Mississippi, a 16-hour drive away.

Fatherhood has been a roller coaster full of ups and downs but also an understanding of it being never-ending. Whether things are going very well or there’s a new obstacle to overcome, the understanding that the roller coaster will continue to go is what makes getting through the obstacle a must! My biggest motivation in life has always been my own father, but to be the exact opposite of who he was when it pertained to fatherhood. 

[Fatherhood is] very important. … I grew up without it. I know the effects of it. I’ve seen it have even worse effects on my brother. … Me and my dad are kind of cool now. Just later on in life, just being able to understand the things that he was going through at the time, the surroundings he was growing up around … just allowing myself to, like, heal from it and grow from it and then just being able to allow him to be around my son. Just because I didn’t have a dad doesn’t mean [Elias] can’t have a granddad. It’s just that type of vibe and just being able to set a different kind of example.

My son comes first, no matter what’s going on. If he calls I’m there, and that’s understood across the board. [When I’m with him] we go at least once a week to the park. But we try to do something, like, every week, so we went to the movies, the park [and] we go swimming a lot. I teach him all types [of] different things. I taught him how to take stuff to the trash. I’m trying to get him off this bottle. He learned the body parts of his face. He puts himself to bed now.

Jackson State’s Esaias Guthrie teaches his 1-year-old son, Elias, how to swim.

Esaias Guthrie

Being able to work fatherhood into that schedule is something I very much hone in on. So if I can’t have my son at my practice, have my son around different things, can’t bring my son to the facility and things like that, then it just wouldn’t work for me. … [You can] balance your time and be able to be great at both things. I’m good on the field and a good father as well. So I just like to show the guys around the team that it’s possible and it’s not the end of the world to have different situations at a young age.

I’ve come to the understanding that due to the decision I made as a young man that there are a lot of sacrifices that must be made in order for me to forge the best future possible for my son. The biggest sacrifice is missing out on the little things and not being able to come home to him every day because I have to be at school 16 hours away. It’s definitely been hard, but just being, like, always in grind mode kind of makes it easier.

I like to think that me and [Elias] have an understanding of what’s expected, even though he’s young. I give him that look, and he scrunches his brows and knows I mean business. I love fatherhood, I love football and I love my son.

Darian Oxendine, Florida A&M University

Florida A&M University’s Darian Oxendine spends time with his daughter, Nova.

Darian Oxendine

Darian Oxendine is a wide receiver and redshirt senior in Florida A&M’s football program. Oxendine is the father of a 3-year-old girl named Nova. While Oxendine is at school, Nova lives three and a half hours away in Oxendine’s hometown of St. Augustine, Florida. During the school year he drives home to see her every other weekend.

It’s nerve-racking because that’s a big step, but I also knew I had to grow up fast, be there for my daughter [while] managing school.

My dad was in prison most of my life, till I was about 11 or 12. He wasn’t really in my life. My stepdad really is the one who raised me, but when I was 9 years old he got sentenced to prison so I never really had, like, that father figure role. It was always me just teaching myself how to grow up and be a man. My mom tried to step in that role, too, but it was basically just me learning how to be a man and looking at the older guys, like, trying to look at people around me and trying to use them as an example. But it wasn’t really that many good examples. I was the one who was being a difference-maker in my family.

Me not having a father present in my life made me go so much harder for Nova, because I know how that made me feel, like, what I went through. I don’t want that for my daughter at all. That was just what pushed me to be a better father for my daughter.

Florida A&M wide receiver Darian Oxendine hugs his 3-year-old daughter, Nova. “Me not having a father present in my life made me go so much harder for Nova, because I know how that made me feel, like, what I went through. I don’t want that for my daughter at all,” he said.

Darian Oxendine

When I’m with Nova she likes to jump on the bed, so sometimes I take her to those trampoline parks. I take her to the park – she loves slides and tries to get on things that’s too big for her, but she’s obviously a good girl. She’s smart for her age. To be 3 years old she’s too smart.

If anybody else looks at being a parent as something other than a blessing, like, you’re not supposed to be a parent. It is definitely the best, and it teaches you a lot. It makes me be more consistent, because you can’t just choose one day not to be a father. You can’t just choose one day not to get up, go to work and put that work in. … I gotta go a little harder because I got her dependent on me at home.

My mom, she really helped me through a lot, and to this day she still helps me through a lot, so I’m very appreciative of Mom. … She helped me to stay motivated, stay on track and just keep going to keep me closer to God. I teach [Nova] to pray every night. God is a big factor in our family life. Without God none of this would be possible, like, where I am today. [Prayer] helps me cope, so I’m gonna definitely make sure my daughter is up to date on a Word.

William Tavares de Brito, Alabama A&M University

Alabama A&M University basketball player William Tavares de Brito enjoys when his 1-year-old daughter, Kiara, travels to Alabama to watch him play. “I always make sure that she comes to at least two or three of my games,” he said.

William Tavares de Brito

William Tavares de Brito is a native of the Republic of Cabo Verde, an island country near Africa. Tavares de Brito, who is entering his junior year, is a center on Alabama A&M’s basketball team. He has a 1-year-old daughter named Kiara. While he attends school, Kiara lives in Pennsylvania.

It was very scary at first. But after a while I just learned how to be patient, and it just became a great blessing. Back at home in Cabo Verde, I used to take care of all of my baby cousins so I wasn’t, like, scared of having a kid at all.

Every time I have a break, every time I’m doing nothing, I always give her a call. I always end up checking on her and stuff. So it’s like every time there’s no workouts, there’s no classes, I’m usually talking to her and doing my homework. I always make sure that she comes to at least two or three of my games, usually during Thanksgiving break because there’s a break and we have a three-game stretch in one week. When she’s there I feel like Superman, and I feel like nobody can beat me.

I have teammates that support me. You know, my teammates always ask where’s my daughter, how she’s doing. … It’s been a great support system being away from home, being away from my daughter. It’s kind of like motivation for me. So if I fall behind, having a system like this to push you to be great is what I really needed. So I really, really loved that I came here [to Alabama A&M].

I’m teaching her how to float without swimming, like, how to float still on water. She likes Connect Four. I still let her beat me a couple of times. She is learning a little bit about it, but she does not like to lose, I tell you that.

Now I am teaching her how to speak my language. It’s called Creole, Cape Verdean Creole. When I speak around [Kiara], she understands it but she can’t speak it. To me it is really important to teach her my culture. It’s really important to me because I’ve taken her to Boston to meet my mom, and I like to get connected with the culture a little. I know she was born here, but I’m just making sure that she knows that I’m from somewhere else [so] that by the time that she wants to know more about it, or I want to take her, she knows how to communicate or enjoy herself.

We’re relaxed people [Cape Verdeans] because we come from island. But we always have much, much more respect to older people than here. So that’s what I taught her the most, like, to respect people that’s older than you, even if he’s one year older than you. They always say “please” and “thank you.”

I’m always [going to] support her and whatever she wants to do, you know, as long as I’m able to help I’ll help her. [Kiara] could raise [the profile of] our country because we’re not a very popular country – we’re small. People are gon’ pay attention to whatever she does. I want her to become great at it and that she’s happy. That’s all I ask.

Mia Berry is the senior HBCU writer for Andscape and covers everything from sports to student-led protests. She is a Detroit native (What up Doe!), long-suffering Detroit sports fan and Notre Dame alumna who randomly shouts, "Go Irish."