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This father wants to encourage other Black men to take their children to the Philadelphia Ballet

Lloyd Freeman organized a "Daddy and Me" day at "The Nutcracker" for Black fathers and father figures.

Lloyd Freeman, a trustee with the Philadelphia Ballet, plans to take his children Ailey and Beau to "The Nutcracker" as part of his "Daddy and Me" campaign.
Lloyd Freeman, a trustee with the Philadelphia Ballet, plans to take his children Ailey and Beau to "The Nutcracker" as part of his "Daddy and Me" campaign.Read morePhiladelphia Ballet

Lloyd Freeman is bringing special guests to his annual holiday outing to see The Nutcracker at the Philadelphia Ballet — his two young children. And he wants other fathers to help him make it a tradition.

Freeman, who joined the ballet’s board of trustees in May, wants to expand its appeal to a more diverse audience. As a lawyer with Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, he also has been a champion for diversity and civil rights.

So, Freeman, of Medford, came up with the idea of a “Daddy and Me” day at the ballet, and invited other fathers, especially Black men, to join him at a Dec. 11 matinee performance of George Balanchine’s Nutcracker. He expects at least 100 men — fathers and father figures — to show up with their children.

“I would love to see more men of color start to support the arts,” Freeman said. “When I go, rarely do I see people who look like me.”

Freeman also has another mission: increase diversity among the dancers. He believes children will better relate to the performances if they better relate to the performers.

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Founded in 1963, the Philadelphia Ballet is one of the country’s premier ballet companies. It currently has no principal Black dancers, largely mirroring the national scene. There are dancers from diverse backgrounds, from countries including Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, and Japan, said David Chambers, the ballet’s chief advancement officer.

“It’s fair to say that, historically, Black dancers have been underrepresented in the Philadelphia Ballet and across the country,” Chambers said. “We acknowledge that we have a lot of work to do.”

Jermel Johnson was the ballet’s only Black principal dancer until he retired in the spring after a 19-year career. Johnson started in the ballet’s second company and rose to the coveted position to become an audience favorite.

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White patrons constitute about 85% of the ballet audience; 5.1% are Black, 4.8% are Asian, and Hispanics make up 4.7%, according to ballet spokesman Patrick Reiher. The Nutcracker audience follows similar trends, he said. The children dancers cast in The Nutcracker come from both the School of Philadelphia Ballet, and the Metropolitan Ballet Academy & Company.

Chambers said the ballet appointed Freeman to its diversity committee, which was created last year. He said the ballet is looking at diversity across the company and applauded the efforts by Freeman to promote more inclusion.

Joan Myers Brown, founder of Philadelphia Dance Company, or Philadanco, wants the ballet to do more to reach out to the Black community and nurture aspiring young Black dancers. Her 52-year-old company has toured the world and produced dancers on Broadway.

“They have to do more than just say it’s OK for Black daddies to bring their kids,” said Brown. “They have to have more dancers on the stage that look like them. Our kids can see that there’s something else they can do.”

Freeman, the chief diversity and inclusion officer at his Philadelphia law firm, wants to change things, too, and has been working on the “Daddy and Me” outing since joining the board. He has gotten his children excited about the performance, where the men and their children will get to meet the dancers and characters at a private reception.

“It has a lot of moves to it,” said his daughter, Ailey, 6. “Maybe I’ll see some of my friends.” Little brother, Beau, 3, is also attending.

A treasured classic, the Nutcracker is a holiday favorite, a two-act ballet that tells the story of young girl Marie, who embarks on a magical journey after befriending a nutcracker that comes to life on Christmas Eve.

Freeman, 40, and his wife, Ebony, named their daughter after the famed Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, home of the couple’s first date when they were struggling students at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

“We fell in love with them,” Freeman recalled. “They became part of our story.”

Freeman said he had to turn down requests from some mothers who wanted to attend the special outing. He wants to give the men a chance to network and especially wants to change stereotypical images of Black men.

“Not only are we trying to change the audience, we are also trying to change society’s perception of Black men and Black fathers,” said Freeman.

Oscar Holmes IV, of Woolwich, and his husband, Kris White, plan to take their son, Kristian, 4.The couple had considered waiting until Kristian was a little older but wanted to join the “Daddy and Me” entourage, he said.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Holmes, a consultant and associate dean in the School of Business at Rutgers-Camden. “If we want to reimagine what our world could be, all kids need to see this, including the dancers.”

Philadelphia Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” runs through Dec. 28. Tickets start at $25 at the Academy of Music,, 215-893-1999.