The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Nov 08, 2011

BME Philadelphia celebrates everyday unsung heroes who are changing lives, one person at a time

Posted by Knight Foundation

BME Challenge Profiles

The following post, written by Jamira Burley, a member of the Philadelphia "street team" that collected stories of how black men and boys are leading their communities, highlights several aspects of the BME Challenge over the past several months, including last month's celebration at The Philadelphia Franklin Institute:

Inspiration: 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 1,000 African-American men.  Over the last few months, these 1,000 men, individually, submitted their stories to Knight Foundation's “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 see 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.

Honoring: At the Philadelphia Franklin Institute, 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 some people are considering to be a “depression," 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 night's 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 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 to work together for the betterment of not only the community they reside in, but society as we know it. 

Elevate: The event 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, 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.

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.”  In my opinion, this 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."

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