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

Jul 31, 2011

Flip the script: Amplifying the good work of black men and boys

Posted by Trabian Shorters

Knight Foundation is proud to launch BME today in partnership with Open Society Foundations’ Campaign for Black Male Achievement, Context Partners and the people of Detroit and Philadelphia.

BME (pronounced “Be Me”) will engage thousands of people in recognizing the black men and boys who take initiative to improve their communities. We will also award grant money for several of the local projects that these men and boys propose to us. But what’s this all about?

We believe in communities where black men and boys lead in solutions, participate in decision making and are fully engaged in all issues and opportunities affecting their communities. So we want to first recognize and thank those who do. Then, we want to build upon their efforts to make our communities better. To put it in context, allow me to tell this very personal story.

Back in the 90s, I was at a national conference in Philadelphia. About a thousand people from all over the country debated the issues and challenges facing our communities. As is the custom, about a dozen of us black folks found each other over the course of the conference and reconvened in someone’s hotel room to have the “real” conversations about the same issues.

Since this was a “keep-it-real” conversation, we didn’t talk about “issues facing society.” We talked about issues facing our family, our cousins, our brothers, our mothers and fathers.

As we went round robin introducing ourselves, the brother who spoke before me explained that he grew up in a fatherless home and how the black community is suffering due to a lack of black male role models. He said it. I said the same thing, since my dad wasn’t around either and the neighborhood was a terrible place. The brother who spoke after me echoed the same experience.

Then an older sister named Octavia Vaughn interrupted. With a genuinely pained look on her face, she asked, “Why do you keep saying that? That there were no positive role models?” She continued, looking each of us in the eye as she pleaded: “You didn’t have a grandfather, an uncle; your mom never dated a man who showed you the right way to go?”

It was as if she had switched a light on in the room that has never gone out for me.

I had all these things. My grandfather, rest his soul, was the paragon of our family. My uncle Charles went off and fought in Vietnam, returned home and raised his family through whatever may come. My mother dated a man named Swoop who did right by us ‘til the day he died.

Yet I had stood here and dishonored all these men because I had become so used to focusing on what was missing that I neglected what was there.

Fact of the matter is, I would not be here now were it not for everyday men like these who do more than their part to lead others in the right way to go.

So we’re not saying ignore the problems in communities. But we are going to stop ignoring those who deserve recognition for what they do to keep us all strong.

Ask yourself, who are the black men and boys whose spirit and actions make your community stronger in big ways and in small ways? If it inspires you, then it counts.

Submit their names to and why you believe they should be recognized.

If we succeed together in Detroit and Philadelphia, BME will spread to other communities. When all is said and done, success means that:

  • You will have had a chance to say “thank you” to people who go unsung.
  • You will know the stories of hundreds of local black men and boys out there who are making a difference in ways that benefit others, not just themselves.
  • Detroiters and Philadelphians will have voted for us to fund over a dozen projects.

BME will surface thousands of black men and boys who stand ready to do what is needed in our communities to make them places of belonging, caring and positive action on what matters most.

Get involved. BME.

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