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Advancing Hope for Black Men and Boys

May 15, 2014

Headshot_Shawn Dove_How do you quantify hope? I've been asking myself that question recently in my role as manager of the Open Society Foundations' Campaign for Black Male Achievement. Indeed, with the intensified focus on the disparities facing black men and boys in America, and increased demand for evidenced-based outcomes and lifting up what truly works, it has been pressing on my mind and heart.

I come into contact every day with leaders, young and old, working hard to advance the field of black male achievement. They give me hope that lasting change is possible. This week, the BMAfunders team at the Foundation Center published a report, Building a Beloved Community: Strengthening the Field of Black Male Achievement, that provides the nation with a recipe for taking that work to the next level.

Given the growing national focus on the need to improve life outcomes for black males, it is a timely resource. Based on interviews with fifty leaders in the social, academic, government, and business sectors, Building a Beloved Community maps the black male achievement landscape and offers recommendations for strengthening the field going forward.

The report also attempts to answer the question posed in the title of its 2012 companion report, Where Do We Go From Here? Philanthropic Support for Black Men and Boys, and concludes that we should aspire to what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a generation ago, described as the Beloved Community — a nation committed to realizing its founding promise of "justice for all."

In describing his idea of a Beloved Community, King said "we are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality." That notion is linked to scholar and civil rights activist Lani Guinier's premise that black men and boys are America's "canaries in the mine" — that the inequities they face are inextricably connected to the well-being of all Americans. In fact, it was Guinier's premise that helped convince Open Society's U.S. Programs board of directors to launch the Campaign for Black Male Achievement in 2008. Since then, we have worked with countless partners to help catalyze and support the emerging leaders and organizations highlighted in the Building a Beloved Community report.

Those of us at the Campaign for Black Male Achievement have been thrilled to have the Foundation Center as one of our core research partners over the years. Seema Shah and Grace Sato have truly leaned into the effort, producing groundbreaking reports like Building a Beloved Community and launching BMAfunders.org, the central repository for all things black male achievement.

With the recent announcement of the White House's My Brother’s Keeper initiative, increased philanthropic engagement through the Executives' Alliance to Expand Opportunities for Boys and Men of Color, and a groundswell of attention around the issue, we have an opportunity to create change that must be pursued with a sense of urgency.

As Darren Walker, CEO of the Ford Foundation, notes in the report, what is needed to seize this moment is "bold, courageous leadership." I agree that one way, perhaps the most important way, to advance the field of black male achievement is to support the many bold, courageous leaders across sectors who are working to improve the life outcomes for black men and boys. Building a Beloved Community provides us with glimpses of many such leaders.

At the same time, while the report has generated a good deal of activity in the first few days after its release, its overriding message is that we must not confuse activity with progress or opportunity with lasting change.

Geoff Canada, president and CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone and one of the Open Society board members who helped launch the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, reminds us in the report's afterword that "the barriers to success that black men face have been in plain sight for decades, so it is particularly heartening to see a movement taking shape that is specifically crafted to address these challenges and change the odds for one of the most disenfranchised populations in America. We are moving in the right direction," he adds, "but we need to keep in mind that our commitment must be for the long haul."

Canada's words are a reminder that when it comes to the field of black male achievement, we are the leaders we have been waiting for.

Shawn Dove is manager of the Open Society Foundations' Campaign for Black Male Achievement.

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