Families who belong to a support group for black fathers in Toronto are going on summer hikes this year to celebrate the organization's tenth anniversary and to nurture a love of nature in their children.

Brandon Hay, founder of the Black Daddies Club, said its first hike of the year was a five-kilometre walk at Rouge National Urban Park on Sunday. It is part of what is called the Black Daddies Club Family and Friends Summer Hikes. Two others are scheduled for July 23rd and August 13th. 

Familes brought their dogs on the Sunday morning excursion.

"I wanted my kids to disconnect from their video games and engage in nature," Hay told CBC Toronto. 

"And it's been cool. Families come out with their kids and the kids start to network and meet other kids. But they are being kids in nature. They're climbing trees. They're playing in water. They're learning about animals and plants. It's a cool thing. It speaks to the piece that we have different ways of learning. It's not just in a classroom." 

Brandon Hay

Brandon Hay, founder of the Black Daddies Club, says he organized the hikes because: 'I wanted my kids to disconnect from their video games and engage in nature.' (Paul Smith/CBC)

Hay said the families on the walk want to expose children to different ways of learning.

According to Hay, the hikes come with their own themes and the theme on Sunday was love and self-care. Participants, adults and children, were asked to talk to each other about the theme and to share ideas. There were walk leaders at the front and back and they helped to keep the conversations going.

At the end of the hike, the families were expected to talk about what they have learned.

"These hikes are about community building as well," he said.

In 2015, when Hay was doing his masters degree at York University, he did a short eco-diversity course in Costa Rica, where he went hiking "intentionally" for the first time. He said he wanted to recreate the same experience in Toronto with his children.

"When I got back from the course, I recognized that sitting in a classroom didn't engage me how it did before," he said. 

Nicole Osbourne James

Nicole Osbourne James, a participant, said the hike was an excellent way to bring families together. As for the theme of self-care, it starts with families and communities, she said. (Paul Smith/CBC)

Nicole Osbourne James, a participant, said Rouge National Urban Park is a beautiful green space with trees and meadows so close to the city, "a hidden jewel," and the hike was an excellent way to bring families together. As for the theme of self-care, it starts with families and communities, she said.

James said the hike is a convenient way to get children to experience the great outdoors.

"It's a great way to get kids out, get them exercising, get them all the air and nature and the healthy things they need and they don't even know it's happening because they are so busy running around with other kids. It's actually like a video game come to life," she said.

Club aims to change image of 'absent black father'

As part of the organization's tenth year, it is involved in what it calls "Black Love Matters 2017 Un-Conference," which is a series of events. The hikes are a part of that series. A "Black Love Matters" course will be taught this fall at York University also as part of the "Un-Conference."

On its website, the Black Daddies Club says it is "celebrating Black love, unapologetically declaring that 2017 is the time for Black folks to love ourselves completely, and more than ever before." 

Hay founded the club in 2007 after he felt isolated as a new black father. He said there were a lack of spaces for black men to discuss parenting issues and concerns.

The organization aims to change the image of the "absent black father" that it sees in the media and to help young black men become better fathers. It says it supports black children, families and the larger community.