Sitting in the lobby of the Dakota Lofts downtown your eye is immediately drawn to the black and white floor that resembles a giant chessboard. A small group of people mill around the life size board as they await instructions. Before anyone has a chance to start creating their own Queens Gambit scenarios a smartly dressed man enters the lobby and escorts everyone up a few floors to a door at the end of the hallway.
Walking through the door, guests enter a building filled with the daylight spilling through its many windows. Attention is immediately drawn to Kevin Barnett and Arvy Lim, waiting in the center of the room dressed in black suits. The two colleagues, who have become best friends, and are now running the non-profit organization CoolXDad. They quickly guide the small group into the room as they explain their purpose.
“The exhibit we have today is called cool history,” Barnett explains as he points at the photography adoring the brick walls of the space. “It is a fundraiser for our organization, CoolXDad, that we are using to support underserved communities. We uplift men, specifically men of color, and help them understand the importance of fatherhood and how the family foundation is vital to the growth of the community.”
“We have a background in curation and inspirational programming and that’s exactly what this is. We developed merchandise and the proceeds go to the CoolXDad organization, but we also support the Houston Freedman’s Town Conservancy. Their mission is to revitalize the historic Fourth Ward. We want to use the funds to drive home our programming which is focused on financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and mental health.”
Hanging on the walls are back and white photo recreations of important moments in the lives of Martin Luther King, Angela Davis, Malcolm X, and Dorothy Dandridge. A documentary plays on the screen behind Lim and Barnett displaying images of fathers with their children.
“CoolxHistory started in black history month. We wanted to pay homage to key historical figures that came before us and laid the foundation. We wanted to raise money for the nonprofit but do it in a different way. We wanted to shake up what people thought of as a fundraiser. We partnered with photographer Greg Noire and let him show us history through his lens. We wanted to show iteration of these iconic figures while highlighting his commitment to being a father.”
Arvy Lim and Kevin Barnett join forces to create Cool Dad.
Photo by Greg Noire
The CoolXDad project is about bringing people together but its origins started from a friendly rivalry.
“We’ve known each other for six years. We actually met during a job interview. When you walk into an interview you’re scanning the room and seeing who might take your job,” laughs Lim. “We’ve always had a mutual professional respect for each other’s work. Ultimately, we ended up getting the job and we’ve been working together since then.”
Their friendship and business relationship grew stronger through their work and increased as Barnett started his family. As the two discussed navigating family life the pandemic hit, and their discussion pivoted from helping each other to helping their communities. Lim speaks about some of the events that led to the push to help others.
“This started in March at the beginning of the pandemic. In the early part of the year we saw Kobe pass away. We saw the George Floyd protests. We were just stuck in the house thinking what we could do to help the people around us. Kevin had this idea about impacting the community while using our vehicle of being dads. This is our way to protest, push the needle, and really dive deeper into the idea of family.”
“This is really a showcase of the work of four fathers,” further explains Barnett. “Myself, Arvy, Greg Noire, and Sean Richards. Sean Richards is a videographer that owns the company 44 flat. He put together the documentary about Greg Noire navigating the space of being a photographer and an entrepreneur while being a father.”
For those that didn’t get a chance to view the pop-up Barnett promises there will be more to come.
“This was a one-time pop up. With COVID restrictions we wanted to make sure everyone was safe but as things change there will be more in the future. We’re starting out with a weekly zoom call, called Open Source, where will just be talking about fatherhood. It will be a way to drive home our message and take a closer look at CoolXDad before donating or becoming a member. It’s just the gateway. We want to do more but of course within COVID protocols. Having these virtual platforms allow us to build a reach during these times. I grew up in a broken home. It was important for me to find a way to connect to our community and show that we have the ability to change the narrative.”
Some of the merchandise offered by Cool Dad to raise money for the organization.
Photo by DeVaughn Douglas
“It’s all about our kids,” Lim expounds. “I just want to show the new generation that empathy is key. There has been a connotation, sometimes negative, of what fatherhood has been in the past and we want to show a different side. This is a way to make a generational shift. My daughter is here and able to see what I’m doing and see the importance of helping the community.”
Lim’s daughter, Aria, walks around the room admiring the photos and the work that her father has done.
“It’s really cool. Like cool dad,” she laughs. “It’s cool to see Black history and see him doing something like this with his best friend. I’m really proud of him. It shows how just being a dad, and a parent in general, is really important.