Inspire;If there is anything more powerful then being surrounded by 300 of Philadelphia “Change Agents” then I haven’t quite discovered what that is yet. The inspiration that radiated from the room wasn’t just because we were sitting in the shadow of one of the country’s founding fathers, Ben Franklin, but because we were there to honor his legacy in the form of more than 1000 African American men. Over the last few months, these 1000 men, individually, submitted their stories to the Knight Foundations “BME Challenge”. The men represented everything from community leaders, city officials, educators, poets and artists alike. The men represented what Philadelphia, if not this country is made of. They are the everyday unsung heroes who are changing lives, one person at a time.
Just over a month ago, when I was asked to come on board as a “street team” member, to help collect the stories; I had no idea the caliber of people that I was going to come across. African American men, who believed in the possibility of their community, that they have dedicated their life’s work to improving it. I’m not just talking about the men who have made front page of the newspaper or the ones you always see receiving an award, instead I was honored to meet the guy on the block you seeing helping the old woman with her groceries and the young man who reads to his younger brothers and sisters in his free time. Those men and boys that I had the privilege of meeting are the ones who many times go unrecognized and never honored. However, the BME challenge changed that.
( Some of the “BME” challenge entrant contestants with keynote speaker Jeff Johnson)
(Right to Left Jeff Johnson(Author, MSNBC Contributor, Jordan Harris(ED; Philadelphia Youth Commission), Jaquan Fields(17 years old),Tryone Werts(President; Lifers Public Safety Initiative), Thomas Bulte(ED, Project Grad), Tyree Dumas(22, CEO/Fouder DaollarsBOYZ) and Bilal Qayuum(President if the Father’s Day Rally Committee) )
Honor; Last night (October 27, 2011), at the Philadelphia Franklin Institute, the Knight Foundation did something that in many ways was the first of its kind. It brought together 300 of the “BME Challenge” entrants, to celebrate the work of these men and young boys alike. To me, what was most powerful about this event, was that even in the wake of what many people are considering to be a “depression” and even in a time when the number of murders among black men are, these men and future men were able to raise above the adversities blocking their path and in doing so, helped to lay a foundation for many more to follow.
In addition to honoring all the men who submitted a story, the top five men or boys that received the most “Thumbs-UP” for their story were recognized for their great work. As a way to place it all in perspective, the attendants at last nights celebration were privileged to hear remarks from not only Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter but also MSNBC Correspondent, Jeff Johnson. Both the words given by Mayor Michael Nutter and Jeff Johnson were a sheer spear of fire and unification throughout the room. Jeff Johnson, a clear representation of the men and boys that were being honored, used his words to unite everyone in the audience to carry out two things, motivate and elevate the next generation of leaders and two work together for the betterment of not only the community they reside in, but society as we know it.
(Top Five “Thumps Up” winners and Philadelphia Program Director Donna Frisby-Greenwood)
Elevate; Last night (October 27, 2011)…wasn’t just about honoring these men and boys but also recognizing that there is still much work to be done. As a call to action, The Knight Foundation has teamed up with the Open Society Foundations for the second phase of the “BME Challenge”, which will allow African American males to apply for grants up to $50,000 to increase the efforts of their initiative within Philadelphia. The application process has already opened but the Knight Foundation will host two informational sessions to answer any questions that applicants may have the about the application process.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said “Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve…. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”, which in my opinion clearly represents the purpose and mission behind the “BME Challenge”. This challenge will help to redefine the true measure of a man and give faces to the heroes that have long since been overlooked. These heroes are being encouraged to be themselves and in the process leading by example. So when someone asks, who shall they be, they can say “BME”.
To find out more information about the BME Challenge or the Knight Foundation, please follow the links below;
BME Black Male Engagement