Damarqio Williams and his daughter. Courtesy photo, credit Sylvia Jarrus
“Detroit is bad, don’t go there” always sounded like gibberish to Damarqio Williams.
Williams, 28, is an Ypsilanti native who heard variations on that advice growing up and wasn’t allowed to visit Detroit when he was younger. But in 2016, he received a job offer with Quicken Loans and packed up his family, including his young daughter, and moved to the eastside of Detroit.
Once he experienced the city for himself, he fell in love with it.
“I just saw the community for what it truly was, saw the culture, and people,” Williams said. “I want to be a part of what’s going on here.”
He spent time exploring the city as a new resident and posting his adventures with his family on Instagram @detroitfather, eventually amassing a following of 15,000.
“I’ve always used the power of my voice,” Williams said. “I tell that to everybody that I’ve talked to. I’ve always known from a very, very young age that I have the ability to speak, and to speak things into action. For me, influencing is not just what I do, it’s kind of who I am. It’s embedded in my DNA.”
Williams’ social media presence started as a way to post about sharing time with daughter. Growing up without a dad, he was well aware of the stigmas around Black fatherhood and the difficulty of learning to be one for the first time, and started thinking about ways to change the narrative.
Soon, he started fielding questions from followers reaching out for advice on what to do with their own families. He started hosting link ups with other dads, then in 2017 launched his Detroit Father blog to provide resources, articles and a network for dad-based organizations in Detroit. The events and blog evolved into a brand to celebrate and support local fathers.
Williams said his mission is to share the message that Black fatherhood matters, and that it is needed to build strong communities.
“We just try to find other nonprofits that may not have the full audience or may need resources,” Williams said. “And we try to pinpoint a way to use our platform as well as our social media influence to try to garner support resources, or just awareness.”
That has included paid partnerships with brands like the diaper company Pampers. In 2018, they partnered to bring baby-changing stations to spots around the city. Stations can be found in recreational areas, Black-owned businesses and restrooms.
As a newcomer to Detroit, Williams said he tries to make it clear he’s not an outsider trying to “take over” the city by supporting other people who have been doing similar work.
“Really for us, it’s all about collaboration, how can we partner with local nonprofits,” Williams said. “Partner with people just here in the city of Detroit, and really use our platform to elevate what they’re doing.”
Williams and other dad influencers and nonprofits, like Calvin Mann with Metro Detroit’s Partnerships for Dads, connect for public discussions on apps like Clubhouse, or now in person. Detroit Parent Network often partners with Detroit Father for local dad meetups.
Williams aims to facilitate more dad groups to connect to create an even larger support network for the community.
Despite his growing follower list, Williams is not looking to be a viral star –views and likes come and go, he acknowledged, and he still has his day job.
“It’s about telling my authentic story, it’s about telling the true narrative of being Black and being a Black father and what that means being in an ultimately primarily Black city,” Williams said. “How do I tell that story in the most authentic, most impactful way? That’s something that is the greatest challenge, because it’s so easy to tell a story that’s not authentic. Or it’s so easy to do something just for the likes. That I think is the biggest challenge at least for me, growing into this social media influencer space.”
He does want people to realize that Detroit is full of people who are willing to connect with and support their neighbors.
“We can’t do anything that we want to do alone,” Williams said. “That’s not in our history, it’s not who we are as a people. We can go further and go a lot deeper when we go together. That’s just the biggest thing, I would love people to know about me and my platform. It’s all about uplifting and building community.”