n his 2016 book “Pass the Torch,” author Jamiyl Samuels opens with these five words: “My dad is my hero.” It’s only later does the reader learn the paradox behind that sentence: Samuels’s father walked out on him and his mother when he was ten years old.
This life-changing moment triggered anger and resentment within a young Jamiyl (pronounced Ja-meel) but by his own account, he found refuge in hip hop music, channeling his emotions into rhymes and eventually landing an appearance in 2001 as a 22-year-old aspiring hip hop artist on Freestyle Friday, a segment on BET’s then-popular show “106 & Park.”
In the two decades since—through joy, pain, reflection, and forgiveness—Samuels has stepped into his own version of fatherhood, determined as he puts it “to become and remain a hero” to his son, Trey, and his daughter, Aja.
Today, Samuels is the co-founder, with his wife Tracy-Ann, of The Amazingly Sensational Kids, a children’s media company that aims to foster growth, creativity, and education through content, as well as the founder of W.R.E.a.C. Havoc Enterprises, a media consultancy.
Since 2018, the couple has spread autism awareness and acceptance through their T.A.S.K. (The Amazingly Sensational Kids) book series inspired by their son Trey’s journey as an autistic child learning to navigate life.
Samuels was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and currently resides in Queens, where he recently sat down to take part in the Fatherhood@Forty “Five Questions” interview series.
Describe the father figure who most influenced you. What did they teach you about life?
My father walked out on my mother and I when I was ten years old. However, in that brief time I was with him, I saw him as my hero. The way he carried himself, he was always calm, laid back, and funny. I don’t remember him having life conversations with me, but he taught me a lot by his actions. He treated people with respect, and I rarely saw him angry. My wife says the humility she sees in me comes from him.
Jamiyl and his daughter, Aja.
Now that you’re a father, what does fatherhood mean to you?
When I became a father for the first time, it was a life-changing experience. My immediate thought was, “I must be present for this new life at all costs.” I had it in my mind that I would not do what my father did to me. I was going to break the cycle. Fatherhood means responsibility, refuting the stereotype that Black men do not take care of their children. Fatherhood means building a legacy, being present. Someone your child can truly be proud of.
When my son was diagnosed with autism, it was a difficult reality to grasp. My wife and I later created the company T.A.S.K (The Amazingly Sensational Kids) to publish children’s books with our son Trey as a superhero to help boost his confidence and spread awareness for autism and the bullying of special needs kids.
The advice I would give my younger self would be, “Stop doubting your abilities. Stop letting fear keep you from utilizing your talents and reaching your potential. Put pride aside and seek out your dad.”
The first book was a chapter book, The Amazing Adventures of Awesome Amani, inspired by Trey’s courageous journey as an autistic child navigating the (sometimes harsh) realities of life through his vivid imagination. The latest book is The Sensationally Super Sandy which was inspired by our daughter Aja as she dealt with the realization that her brother was on the autism spectrum. The T.A.S.K children’s books feature Black characters that are relatable and inspirational for all readers, especially children of color, and should be added to every child’s reading list.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
The advice I would give my younger self would be, “Stop doubting your abilities. Stop letting fear keep you from utilizing your talents and reaching your potential. Put pride aside and seek out your dad.” One of my regrets is that I chose to hold on to my anger with my dad and not seek to listen to his side of the story.
We eventually reconciled, but we lost many years in between, especially the all-important teenage years where a male role model is needed more than ever. It’s something I discuss in my book “Pass the Torch: How Young Black Father Challenges the Deadbeat Dad Stereotype.”
What’s been the greatest challenge you’ve faced, and how did you overcome it?
The greatest challenge I’ve faced is getting past the trauma of losing my dad, not realizing how deeply I was affected, and my hurt seeped into my marriage. I realized I didn’t know a lot of things a man was supposed to do due to the lack of a father figure. Thank God my wife Tracy-Ann was patient and willing to communicate what she needed from me as a husband. She convinced me to write “Pass the Torch.” It was therapeutic and allowed me to heal. I’m more at peace now than I’ve ever been.
The Samuels family (left); Jamiyl reading at a book event (right).
There are many uncertainties in life. What do you know for sure?
I know for sure that I have a wife who loves me unconditionally and two children who look up to me as their hero. Knowing that my family holds me in such high regard motivates me to be the best I can be for them. It’s comforting to know I have this support system that keeps me grounded in this uncertain climate.
— An edited transcript published March 6, 2021
— Featured image: Jamiyl Samuels and his son, Trey
— Photos courtesy of Jamiyl Samuels
Learn more about the T.A.S.K. book series at theamazinglysensationalkids.com