Fathers, sons, grandfathers, uncles, step-dads and more came out for the inaugural Father and Son Night Out which included dinner and a movie and was aimed at highlighting black fathers’ involvement in the lives of their children in Dane County.

The event, which took place at the Palace Cinema in Sun Prairie Dec. 19, was a very important one for organizer Aaron Perry, founder of Rebalanced-Life Wellness Association (RLWA), who has been on a mission to close gaps in racial disparities in health and well-being for men in the Madison area.

“I would say of all the events we have done to date that this was probably the most successful, just in terms of seeing the connection,” Perry tells Madison365. “When you have a mission and an objection that you want to reach that event, hands-down, hit every goal and objective we had.”

Father & Son Night Out is part of the Black Men’s Wellness Sustainable Initiative, which is supported by a grant from the Wisconsin Partnership Program at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. Part of Perry’s goal in hosting this inaugural event was to work together to eradicate the myth that black fatherhood is in a state of crisis.

“There are so many negative stereotypes about black fathers that are in the community, but the reality is that even though there is room for improvement, the numbers clearly reflect that black fathers are just as involved, if not more involved, than any other ethnic group that is out there,” Perry says.

Fathers and sons enjoyed “Creed 2” at the inaugural Father and Son Night Out.

Perry notes, for example, that studies show that 70 percent of black fathers report that they’ve bathed, diapered, or dressed their children every day compared to 60 percent of white fathers. The media, he says, would have you believe otherwise.

“That’s why we’re doing this. If we continue to allow this negative stereotype to remain in the community, what are we going to do with the young guys that are fathers that are coming up?” Perry asks. “We want them to think that it’s acceptable for black men to walk away from their responsibilities because of a stereotype.

“We want our young men to know that there are many black fathers who are heavily involved in their children’s lives,” he adds.

For the inaugural Father and Son Night Out, Perry reached out to the Marcus Corporation and the Palace Movie Theater – a state-of-the-art cinema with 14 auditoriums, each with comfortable DreamLounger recliner seating – about what his goal and his vision were for the event.

“I was so excited when they really embraced it and they said they wanted to help me make it successful,” Perry says. “They gave us the entire movie theater – 102 seats – and made it possible for fathers and children to watch a movie for free.”

Before the movie, former Wisconsin Badger football star J.C. Dawkins talked to the large group about fatherhood and about health, as a heart attack survivor himself.

Former Wisconsin Badger football star J.C. Dawkins speaks to the fathers and sons before the movie.

“J.C. also brought his father to the event with him, which was really cool, and he shared a little bit about the role that his father has played in his life,” Perry says. “It really just brought it home about the significance of having that father presence.”

The group of fathers and sons saw the movie “Creed 2,” the latest movie in the “Rocky” franchise.

“That was the perfect movie because a lot about the movie ‘Creed” surrounded the whole fatherhood theme. It turned out to be perfect synergy,” Perry says. “The movie was great, but more importantly, overall it was a perfect night.”

The inaugural Father and Son Night Out was just the latest in a long line of efforts from the Rebalanced-Life Wellness Association, who was selected as the State of Wisconsin Most Innovative Non-Profit Organization of the Year back in October at the University of Wisconsin Memorial Union in Madison.

Aaron Perry with his Wisconsin Innovation Award back in October

The RLWA Men’s Health & Education Center, located inside of Madison’s largest black barbershop JP Hair Design, is an innovative health model for reducing health disparities and improving the social and health conditions of African-American men in Dane County. The center will be getting even bigger and better in about a month as it expands its westside location. The grand opening should be in mid-February.

“We’re expanding the Men’s Health Center about 600 square feet and we’ll have a yoga studio with yoga classes,” Perry says. “We’ll be able to expand a lot of our health education and really focusing on reducing the stress reduction in men’s and boy’s lives.”

One of Perry’s goals with the expansion is getting a stress test for 350 men this year. “If we can eclipse that, that would be great,” he says. “There’s so much research out there indicating that stress is causing men significant health problems. We want to do a stress test on them and help them identify what’s going on.”

Perry’s organization is an important health resource for black men in Dane County and hosts signature events like Black Men Run, the Men’s Health Conference, Men’s Health Night Out, and Black Men Run/Brown Boys Read to help provide a valuable health support system for black men in Dane County.

And now, after a successful inaugural Father and Son Night Out, Perry says that they will be hosting the event every other month. So the next event will be held Feb. 2. Details will come.

“When you hear the stereotype that is permeated in the community … it is not accurate. What we’re trying to do with this event is highlight how active fathers are,” Perry says. “When you can see it, you can believe it. So, that’s what we intend to do with this Father and Son Night Out as we continue to move forward.

“Having fathers show up and be present and active with their young kids was just priceless,” he adds. “The most important thing was seeing these young men just staring at their fathers. That was just awesome to see.”