What Winning Looks Like: Impact & Innovation Forum for Black Male Achievement
October 05, 2012
(Grace Sato is a research assistant at the Foundation Center. This is her first post for PhilanTopic.)
What do New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, philanthropist George Soros, and Harlem Children's Zone founder Geoffrey Canada have in common? They're all passionate about black male achievement. And they all shared the stage at the inaugural Impact & Innovation Forum, hosted by the Open Society Foundations, earlier this week.
At the event, more than two hundred leaders from every sector -- philanthropy, government, finance, media, education, nonprofit, faith -- gathered to hear about efforts taking place across the nation to improve the lives of black men and boys. And while acknowledging the many challenges black men and boys face, forum participants focused on celebrating victories, spotlighting innovative strategies, and building on growing momentum in the field.
Here are some of my takeaways from the event:
Black men and boys are assets. The Knight Foundation's Trabian Shorters described the foundation's Black Male Engagement (BME) Challenge, which put out a call to black men in Detroit and Philadelphia to share stories of how they were helping their communities. The foundation received almost twenty-one hundred responses in just eight weeks from "regular" folks -- neighbors, uncles, coaches -- who are volunteering their time to make a difference in others' lives. With negative portrayals of African-American males dominating the media, these are stories that need to be shared.
The time is now. The field of black male achievement is "not a new idea. It's a now idea," said Shawn Dove, campaign manager for the Open Society Foundations' Campaign for Black Male Achievement. That sentiment -- what Dr. Robert Ross, president and CEO of the California Endowment, described as the "spiritual audacity of the moment" -- was echoed by numerous speakers and evident in the energy and enthusiasm of participants. Indeed, it was Angela Glover Blackwell, founder and CEO of PolicyLink, who expressed what most people in the room were thinking: "We have everyone we need to get this going. Help has arrived. It's arrived in the form of a movement."
The movement must be built on collaboration. Although the forum was hosted by the Open Society Foundations, the event was all about building the broader field of black male achievement and pooling resources to create real and lasting change. As speaker after speaker acknowledged, there's a role for everyone to play, from investors in social impact funds and African Americans serving on the boards of Fortune 500 companies to young entrepreneurs and volunteer mentors.
"The days of working in silos are gone. That time is dead," said Rev. Dr. Alfonso Wyatt, who emceed the afternoon sessions. Or, as Geoff Canada remarked, those who try to go it alone are bound to fail. The problems are large and complex, said Canada, and we are going to need to engage whole communities in developing a holistic response if we hope to solve them. "The only question," he added, "is, are we prepared to put the cause higher than our own egos or habits?"
Closing the belief gap. The opportunity and achievement gaps confronting black men and boys are well documented. Shawn Dove ended the day by asking, "Do we really believe we can win? For me, what winning looks like is that we've got to first close the belief gap."
I'll close with an anecdote shared by Dr. Ross. Before 1954, he told the audience, it was believed no human being could run a mile in under four minutes. Scientists said it was physically impossible. But in 1954, one man, Roger Bannister, did what everyone said couldn't be done. And within three years, fourteen other people had run a sub-four-minute mile. (Today, there are more than three hundred American sub-four-minute milers alone. I Googled it.) The Open Society Foundations launched its Campaign for Black Male Achievement four years ago. And today, there are sixteen foundations around the country making robust, targeted investments in the future of black men and boys. Not to mention thousands of individuals and organizations committed to their success.
Can the struggle for black male achievement be won? After attending this week's Impact & Innovation Forum, I, for one, am a believer.
-- Grace Sato