Where have all the fathers gone? | WORLD
Sound journalism, grounded in facts and Biblical truth | Donate

Countercultural courage

One man’s quest to destroy false narratives and restore the black community to foundational truths

Kendall Qualls at his home in Medina, Minn. Photo by Judy Griesedieck / Genesis

Countercultural courage
You have {{ remainingArticles }} free {{ counterWords }} remaining. You've read all of your free articles.

Full access isn’t far.

We can’t release more of our sound journalism without a subscription, but we can make it easy for you to come aboard.

Get started for as low as $3.99 per month.

Current WORLD subscribers can log in to access content. Just go to "SIGN IN" at the top right.


Already a member? Sign in.

FIVE-YEAR-OLD KENDALL QUALLS stepped off a city bus onto the streets of Harlem with his weary mom and four siblings. It was still daylight, but he was worn out, too. Kendall clung to the suitcase he had lugged from Fort Campbell, Ky., on the Greyhound bus that rolled into the city just a few hours earlier. He thought about his dad back at the Army base. He didn’t know why, but his parents had divorced. Now, his mom was leading Kendall and his siblings along the last stretch: the garbage-strewn sidewalks of a towering tenement project, to his grandparents’ apartment.

Suddenly, a tall man blocked their path and demanded Kendall’s mom give him money. As she pleaded with him, another man moved out of the shadows and warned she’d better hand it over. Unsure what to do, Kendall could only watch his mother cry. Even today, he remembers thinking in that moment: “I’m never going to be like those men.”

It was the first time Kendall Qualls understood the life he didn’t want. It would take a few more years to figure out what kind of life he did want: one in which he would never again be—or even consider himself—a victim.

Today, Qualls has achieved that vision and is working to make it a reality for others. As the founder of the Minnesota nonprofit TakeCharge, he’s building a national network of like-minded people—he calls them ambassadors—to dispel what he considers the false narratives of systemic racism and white privilege. His goal: to create coalitions that help restore the black community to its pre–War on Poverty self-reliance and productivity.

TakeCharge focuses on three foundational areas Qualls believes must be revived: faith, family, and education. Qualls, 60, and his wife Sheila want minorities in particular to understand that American free enterprise rewards industriousness and merit, while generational entitlement programs—along with blaming others—destroy a people and a country.

Living in the housing-project squalor of New York City in the late 1960s and early ’70s, Qualls usually hiked up 10 floors to get to the family’s apartment since the elevator rarely worked. In the stairwell, the stench of urine assaulted him. He then stepped around addicts shooting heroin or passed out in shadowy hallways where they’d knocked out the lights. But there’s another scent lodged in his memory, a better one: When he opened his apartment door, the fresh scent of Pine-Sol wafted out.

His mom never got a high school education or a driver’s license, but she kept their two-bedroom apartment spotless. She spread a plastic checkerboard tablecloth under every meal. She told Qualls daily, “I love you, and God loves you.” From his mother, he learned compassion, love, and a moral code rooted in the Ten Commandments. But from the housing projects, he learned men don’t care for their families.

In the 1960s, nearly 80 percent of black families had two parents. But by 2015, nearly 80 percent were fatherless. Today, urban areas are the worst. In Minneapolis, for example, nearly 90 percent of black families don’t have a father in the home.

“We do not have a systemic race problem in America,” Qualls says emphatically. “We have a fatherless home problem.”

He adds that black culture was once rooted in the Christian faith. Men worked hard to provide for families, which in turn sought better education for their children. He cites statistics illustrating how black men’s median income grew nearly 600 percent between 1939 and 1960, and the percentage of black Americans living below the poverty level decreased from 87 percent to 47 percent.

Contrast that with the Qualls’ time in New York. It didn’t take long for his older siblings to get sucked into Harlem’s drug culture. His mom’s emotional health plummeted. The only bright spot came while visiting his dad’s brother on Long Island. Uncle Jimmy was the first black man Qualls knew, other than his grandpa, who didn’t abandon his family: “I watched this middle-class man with his kids and thought, Wow, it can be done.”

Kendall Quall’s father.

Kendall Quall’s father. Photo courtesy of Kendall Qualls

Not long after that, Qualls’ absentee father arrived to take him and his younger brother to live in Oklahoma near the Army post where he was stationed. Although they lived in a trailer park, Qualls felt safe and was thrilled to see twinkling stars at night. He began dreaming of a better life. But his dad, an Army drill sergeant, treated his sons like recruits—inspecting rooms, interrogating, disciplining harshly. Qualls began to feel lonely and resentful—unloved. Still, he learned from his father self-sufficiency and a strong work ethic.

When the Army transferred his father to Fort Shafter, near Honolulu, Qualls went to school with military kids of every ethnicity. He played football with them, ran track, went cliff diving, and hunted wild boar. He learned skin color didn’t matter. He took pride in earning money by tossing the Honolulu Star onto front porches each morning. When they moved back to Oklahoma, Qualls focused on academics and signed up for ROTC. At 17, he joined the Army Reserve and was selected squad leader at basic training. By 19 he was a platoon leader.

And he was dating Sheila.

Qualls with his mother in New York City in the 1980s.

Qualls with his mother in New York City in the 1980s. Photo courtesy of Kendall Qualls

NEARLY A QUARTER of U.S. children live in single-­parent homes—the highest percentage of any country. The world average is just 7 percent. In America, nearly 24 million children live without their ­biological fathers in the home, mostly within black and other minority communities. But the numbers are increasing for white families, too.

Fatherless kids generate staggering statistics: They comprise 75 percent of children in substance abuse centers, 71 percent of high school dropouts, 90 percent of homeless and runaway children, 75 percent of rapists, and 70 percent of youth in juvenile detention centers.

Qualls saw the destructive results of fatherlessness firsthand. All of his siblings abused drugs. Three went to prison. One died of an overdose. And his mom, unable to manage alone and battling discouragement and mental health problems, jumped off the roof of their 15-floor tenement building. Qualls was serving with the Army in South Korea at the time. He says it took him 20 years to fully grieve.

“My heart broke,” he said. “I’d wanted to be her champion.”

We do not have a systemic race problem in America. We have a fatherless home problem.

IN ADDITION to managing a household and children alone, a single mom in America earns only a median $31,500 compared with a two-parent family’s median income of nearly $101,500, according to 2021 U.S. Census Bureau reports. More than a third of single moms in the United States live in poverty.

Alfrieda Baldwin had a front-row seat to the fallout. After retiring from a 30-year law career, she began volunteering at a suburban school in the Twin Cities’ suburbs in 2013. She repeatedly watched teachers and administrators refuse to discipline black children.

One day she saw a black child lying in the hallway, kicking and screaming. No adult stopped him. “As a black woman, I was disturbed,” she recalled. “How would these children ever be able to learn without discipline and consequences?” Baldwin knew the heart of the problem started in homes, mostly fatherless ones, but the Obama administration had been saying disparities in black education stemmed from racial bias. DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) was just beginning to filter into schools, though it wasn’t called that yet, Baldwin said.

She says she heard constant lies from Democratic politicians, and they made her angry: “Stop telling me how oppressed I am. That’s not my experience or my parents’. This country gave me many opportunities.” Baldwin’s frustration led her to scrutinize the Democratic Party’s history and platforms. Eventually, she decided to switch parties and became a Republican. In 2015, she launched her own group of five like-minded women. They call themselves the Dangerous Negro Ladies.

Baldwin and her friends learned about Qualls and his work and invited him to meet them for coffee one day in 2021. After they grilled him, researched his background, and decided he was for real, three became ambassadors for TakeCharge. Baldwin now chairs the board and speaks to groups, urging others to join.

“I find it insulting when people talk about systemic racism and white privilege,” she says. “And I’m tired of having voices like mine stifled in the mainstream.”

Baldwin appears in TakeCharge volunteer videos, a collection of more than 60 testimonies of black people denouncing progressive ideology and advocating for God, marriage, and strong education. She also founded a Christian microschool in St. Paul.

Baldwin’s school dovetails with a larger vision. TakeCharge plans to launch hundreds of its own microschools in minority neighborhoods around the country, with the first scheduled to open in Minneapolis this fall. The Christ-centered schools, each with 20-25 students, will teach academics and life skills. They’ll be called Washington Academies, named after both George Washington and educator Booker T. Washington. Qualls draws inspiration from Up From Slavery, the latter Washington’s autobiography. He’s read it five times.

Qualls believes public schools have failed children in black communities. He cites as evidence not only lack of discipline, but dismal reading and math scores: “Schools are pushing social-emotional learning. And they’re teaching only the sins of our country—none of its virtues.”

Kendall and Sheila Qualls with their family.

Kendall and Sheila Qualls with their family. Photo courtesy of Kendall Qualls

QUALLS DECIDED in high school he didn’t want to become a casualty of a

broken home. But it wasn’t until he started dating Sheila that he saw up-close the true blessings of an intact family. Qualls watched Sheila’s father—a former sergeant major in the Army—sit quietly in his chair reading the Bible, then work demanding rotating shifts at a Goodyear plant. Qualls began attending church with the family.

In 1986, Qualls and Sheila married, after he became a first-generation college graduate and entered active military service. Eventually, they had five children, one of whom is adopted. Qualls says, tongue-in-cheek, that he can’t remember which one.

After the Army, the Qualls moved to Dallas and began attending Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship. Qualls says he’d viewed most black churches as Sunday social clubs. But sitting in a pew week after week, listening to Pastor Tony Evans’ Scriptural teaching, Qualls was transformed. At age 27, he says, he became born again and was baptized. He went to counseling and learned how to forgive his father. He began to understand, he says, how Satan tries to destroy marriages and families. Whenever the family moved to a new city after that, they looked for a Biblically sound church, even if they were the only black family in the congregation.

Today, interest in Qualls’ work—and his message—is growing. Kevin Lewis met Qualls over social media in 2021. Lewis, 33, is a father of five who works as a chemical engineer at 3M. He also teaches Sunday school in Waterford, Mich., and coaches youth teams. He was happy to meet someone who shared similar goals and soon became a TakeCharge ambassador.

“I didn’t have my dad growing up, and meeting someone older and hearing the positive vision he had for blacks from an African American viewpoint encouraged me,” Lewis says.

Growing up, Lewis attended mostly white schools but says he never felt he had to overcome his skin color. The only racist attitudes he heard came from other minorities who claimed his success came not from hard work but from “acting white.”

Kendall’s son Joshua and grandson.

Kendall’s son Joshua and grandson. Photo courtesy of Kendall Qualls

Later, in the corporate world, Lewis heard a DEI speaker insist blacks could never be racist because they don’t have power. Also, though his own mother was white, that he couldn’t be racist because he looked black. That spurred him to become a leader in his company’s DEI group. He hopes to bring balance and ask penetrating questions. He also plans to start a TakeCharge chapter in the Detroit metro area.

TakeCharge will soon launch two more chapters in Memphis, Tenn., and Omaha, Neb. But Qualls’s vision isn’t welcome everywhere. Black pastors espousing critical race theory don’t return his calls, he says. And he’s no longer invited to college campuses.

In February, antipathy toward his message turned violent: Someone tried to burn down Qualls’ office and those of two other conservative organizations in the same building. The FBI and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives found accelerants outside just those three doors—offices located on different floors in a three-story building filled with many tenants. Investigators quickly cordoned off entrances with yellow fire-scene tape and soon confirmed arson. But they have yet to make any arrests.

Few national media outlets reported the crime, an oversight that still irritates Qualls. He says if arsonists had targeted liberal organizations, reporters would be swarming. Despite hateful emails—some, predictably, calling him an Uncle Tom—many more have offered support, he says. Meanwhile, the arson has only heightened Qualls’ resolve.

In 2002, Gallup polls reported the state of race relations had reached an all-time high: Between 60 and 70 ­percent of Americans believed race relations were positive. Those numbers began to dive during President Barack Obama’s second term. By 2023, progressives claimed systemic racism was rampant, and only 33 percent of blacks and 43 percent of whites said race relations were favorable.

Qualls longs for blacks to be “victors not victims,” a TakeCharge motto. “I don’t consider myself exceptional. I have an average IQ on my best days,” he says. “But we live in an exceptional country, and I serve an exceptional God.”

Sharon Dierberger

Sharon is a senior writer for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute and Northwestern University graduate and holds two master’s degrees. She has served as university teacher, businesswoman, clinical exercise physiologist, homeschooling mom, and Division 1 athlete. Sharon resides in Stillwater, Minn., with her husband, Bill.


Please wait while we load the latest comments...