‘Cookman Gave Me a Wife and a Dad’: Fathers’ Uplift CEO Reflects on His Journey and the Foundation B-CU Provided

Ever since he learned about Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune and the college she founded in grade school, Charles Daniels, Ph.D., LCSW (‘09) said he wanted to attend Bethune-Cookman College. His maternal grandmother lived in West Palm Beach and though he grew up just outside of Atlanta, Ga., he considered himself to have been partially reared in his mother’s home state.

“Coming out of high school, I didn’t really know my value as a dark-skinned Black man,” he said, acknowledging that having merely grown up around lots of people who looked like him was not enough to instill in him a sense of pride and value. Daniels took a year off after high school to financially prepare for college, but he never lost sight of the goal.

“I was always inspired by Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune. I was always inspired by her legacy. I felt like I needed to understand, I needed to be in the thick of it,” he said. “I heard about this statement that [Dr. Bethune] said, ‘I will not rest until all of my children have an opportunity to have a decent education.’ I didn’t do well on the SAT or ACT, and I said Cookman is going to potentially give me a chance.”

He enrolled in classes during the summer of 2005 to prepare for the fall, and as soon as he stepped foot on campus in the summer of 2005, he knew he had made the right decision.

“I took that first class about Dr. Bethune and was like, ‘you started school with $1.50? Yes, teach me,’” he said. The institution “helped me understand not only what it means to be a Black man, but to be a Black man in academia,” said the current visiting research scientist at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS at Yale University’s School of Public Health.

That understanding of self was only the beginning of what Daniels said he gleaned from his time on campus – he met the woman who would become his wife and partner in life and business at B-CU, too.
Daniels Beach

Dr. Charles Daniels and his wife, Samantha, met on a trip to Daytona Beach as B-CU students.

“I had a car, so I was the one who was responsible for getting groceries [for the members of the male scholarship house, where he lived, and their sister dorm] and giving people rides if they wanted to go somewhere,” he remembers. One day, the residents of the scholarship houses wanted to go to Daytona Beach and Daniels was tapped to shuttle everyone over. That was the day he set his sights on courting the former Samantha Fils (‘10). “I said to myself, ‘I’m going to get her, that’s going to be my woman,’” he laughed.

After some persistence on Daniels’ part, she finally gave him a chance. And the rest is history.

Cookman couple

Daniels went on to earn a master’s degree in social work from Simmons University, a Master of Divinity degree from Boston University, and a Ph.D. in social work from Simmons.

“Being at Cookman made me spiritually cocky,” he continued. “Knowing that I could do anything I wanted to do. When your founder is Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, there’s nothing you can’t do. My founder started a school with $1.50. I don’t care about your racism, I don’t care about your big city. If my founder could do it, I could do it,” he said.

That sense of confidence and self-worth made a huge difference for Daniels, who has struggled with the impact of his father’s absence his entire life.

“At Cookman, I was working through the impact of not having my father,” he said. “Samantha, she’s always been the air beneath my wings. At every stage, she would pour into me. Samantha had her father in her life, and she saw me in my evolution. She helped me figure out why my dad was absent the summer before I started grad school. When I got to the Northeast, she was like, ‘I can’t let this man struggle and not know his value because of his father.’”

She welcomed him her into her family, and her dad became a father figure for Daniels as well, pouring into him and reminding him that he is loved and valued.

“Cookman gave me a wife and a dad,” Daniels said.

Mr. and Mrs. Charles Daniels

With Samantha’s help, he founded Fathers’ Uplift, an organization that provides outpatient mental health and substance abuse treatment for fathers and families, helping fathers become and remain emotionally stable for their children. They focus on helping dads work through the shame, guilt, and embarrassment of not being there for their children and help facilitate a path to redemption to rejoin families together.

“I feel like there’s this inner child in me who always yearns for the presence of his father, and every time my wife and I help another child who may not have seen their father in five or more years, it nurtures that part of me,” said Daniels.

The Daniels’ forthcoming book, Present, highlights their journey and pays homage to B-CU and all the men in their lives. It is due out in the Summer of 2025.