Black parenting influencers are making impressions on social media, just by being themselves.
These experts, not all of whom are parents themselves, aren't offering generic advice. Rather, they're sharing their lived experiences through art, wellness, education, travel and mental health expertise, to build a more diverse and wiser community of moms and dads.
For Black History Month and year-round, these are 6 interesting figures to like and follow in 2023.
'I never let scrubs or a lab coat stop my style'
Long before Dr. Kiarra King became a board-certified OB/GYN, she aspired to be a fashion stylist (and a doctor, lawyer, ballerina, dancer and teacher).
"I loved putting looks together and I never wanted to wear the same thing twice," King tells TODAY.com.
As her outfits changed, King's interest in the human body grew. As a child, she would self-diagnose ailments by poring over encyclopedias for answers.
Although King stepped back from her clinical practice, in part to homeschool her 7-year-old daughter, she loves educating and empowering women.
"Historically, medicine is a very paternalistic system, but I didn't train in that model," she says.
Connecting with patients is the best part of her job, she says.
"We know what our fingers do, but not necessarily how ovulation works," she notes. "I often tell patients, 'I know you came in for a pap smear, but let's talk about everything else.'"
In the office, King says she doesn't always "look" like a stereotypical doctor.
"I loved wearing head wraps, statement accessories and beautiful shoes to express myself," she says. "Classic, chic, effortless and bold is how I would describe my style."
King runs a lifestyle blog sharing tips on style, food and wellness, while her Instagram account with more than 53K followers is where you can find her favorite looks. "Fashion is an extension of my being," she said.
'I (draw) to connect with my kids'
Every morning, Lynell Jinks of Martinez, California, packs his teenage children brown bag lunches. While the menu is nothing unusual (sandwiches, fruit, chips), the bags are works of art.
Jinks, a creative director in the video game industry, spends hours producing exquisitely detailed drawings on lunch bags, using colored pencils, markers and the occasional air-brush tool for depth and shading.
He made his first bag in 2010 while packing lunch for his son Izaac's preschool field trip.
"My wife asked me to draw a picture on the bag, so I made Iron Man, which I called 'Izaac Man,'" Jinks tells TODAY.com. It wasn't until his daughter Zelina changed schools three years later that her dad picked up the pencil again.
"I thought a drawing would break the ice at the lunch table," he says. One Monster High logo later, and his idea worked.
Jinks — who has no formal training beyond high school and junior college art classes — has developed a Sunday night tradition, spending two hours on each bag. He's drawn everyone from rap stars (Snoop Dogg, Justin Bieber, Ice Cube) to NBA legends like Kobe Bryant and cultural figures like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
The artist photographs the bags for the more than 10,000 people who follow his Instagram account, "Brown Bag Brown Dad." Even former President Barack Obama loves his work.
Years ago, Jinks received a phone call from the Obama Foundation after he drew portraits of the former first couple on lunch bags, and Izaac's teacher shared them with an acquaintance who worked at the foundation. On Father's Day 2018, Obama posted a photo of the bags on his Instagram account calling it, "a pretty cool dad move."
The moment was a highlight, but showing his children love through art is what makes Jinks happiest.
"I (draw) to connect with my kids," he says, adding that each bag is preserved at home or framed. Jinks hopes to release a coffee book one day, so his grandchildren can enjoy his art.
With Zelina about to finish high school and Izaac in 10th grade, Jinks has two years left to make their lunch period special, he says. "I want to go out with a bang."
"You don't have to leave home to travel"
Karen and Sylvester Akpan are on a world tour, visiting 42 states and 45 countries thus far, to give their 10-year-old son Aiden a diverse education.
"When Aiden was born, we wanted him to travel and be open-minded person," Karen, the creator of The Mom Trotter website, tells TODAY.com.
The family were already globetrotters, having visited an estimated two dozen countries before Aiden's 5th birthday. They realized they weren't home long enough to justify their mortgage in Southern California, so they sold their house, purchased an RV and drove away.
The Akpans don't believe in traditional school, so Aiden is educated through independent activities. He learns math and science from an online platform.
"Everything else is free-flow because Aiden's interests change every year," explains Karen.
On their website, the family teaches how to travel cheaply. The Akpans fund their journeys through freelance writing, social media brand partnerships and ad revenue from their blog.
"Without a house, we don't have (too many) large bills, and we wait for travel deals," she says. "It's better to plan around prices than locations."
Not ready to hit the road? Karen believes that children can get a world-class education without travel.
'The other day, we watched a television show and 'traveled' from our couch to the Mayan (civilization)," says Karen. "Families can also attend local cultural shows or eat diverse foods. You don't have to leave home to travel."
'My mission is to change stereotypes of Black fathers'
Sean Williams remembers when he decided to start a revolution.
"I was standing in a Long Island grocery store with my 1-year-old baby strapped to my chest and a white woman asked, 'Is that your baby?'" Williams tells TODAY.com. "When I answered yes, she said, 'Good for you, for sticking around!'"
It was 2016 and another Black man had just died in a police shooting. The woman's backhanded compliment showed him the depth of false stereotypes about Black fathers.
Williams, who has three children, wanted to share how joyful Black fatherhood is, but he wasn't sure how; there was so little accurate information online about the experience.
"The Dad Gang" Instagram account was initially for Williams and his friends to post scenes from fatherhood, but other dads wanted to submit their own photos, so it grew. The account now has 152,000 followers and this bio: "Dope dads changing the way the world views Black fatherhood. Don’t believe the hype we're active AF."
In 2019, The Dad Gang organized a stroller walk to a Brooklyn park called "Strolling with the Homies" that attracted 150 fathers. And in March 2022, Williams published a children’s book called “Girl Dad," about a father's love for his daughter. His next book, "Boy Dad," comes out in May 2023.
The biggest strength of The Dad Gang lies in their community.
"We have to make sure men (aren't alone)," says Williams. "By sharing, we become better fathers."
Celebrate Black history: Keep learning!
Tearing down the myths about ADHD
Texas psychiatrist Dawn Brown helps kids with ADHD because she herself was diagnosed with the neurological disorder at age 31.
"I was two months away from graduating from my childhood psychiatry fellowship program," Brown tells TODAY.com. "I didn't know I had ADHD, partly because my mom was an educator and I always had extra tutoring support."
Brown is demystifying ADHD for both parents and children.
"It's an absolute myth that ADHD develops from 'bad' parenting," says Brown. "It's a predominantly genetic disorder and more under-diagnosed than people think — ADHD is the most studied medical condition but also the most misunderstood."
According to Brown, who runs ADHD Wellness Center in Houston, ADHD diagnoses are often overlooked in Black communities partly because trauma symptoms (hyperactivity, anxiety, depression and impulsivity) can resemble the disorder. "We don't have an effective trauma scale when looking at ADHD because it's not part of the standard questionnaire," she says.
Brown's treatment plan is a mix of medication and behavioral management, also known as ADHD coaching, in which kids learn time management and other skills.
"I love hearing how much better kids are doing in school because of (our work)," she says. "One child at a time."
Teaching kindergarten 'is not for the weak'
"Kindergarten is a live show," teacher Simone Slater tells TODAY.com. "I never know what will happen."
The Dallas educator shares funny and educational skits and scenes from the classroom on the TikTok account LoveMissSlater with more than 400,000 followers. The fourth-year educator was inspired by her own kindergarten teacher — a former Disneyland princess — whose spirit she says she carries "at all times."
With 27 students in her class at Uplift White Rock Hills Preparatory School, Slater brings an open mind to her classroom — and a heap of patience.
"Being a teacher isn't about control; it's about meeting children where they are," she explains.
“Kindergarteners are loving, non-judgmental and open to everything,” says Slater. “It’s a reflective age. And if I can instill a love of education at age 5, (the world) is limitless."