I was honored to be a part of a national delegation of 30 black Public Ally Alumni professionals working on a Public Allies and Open Society Foundation project to advance black male achievement (BMA) for opportunity youth (ages 18-24) in conjunction with The White House’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative from May 6-8, 2014.  To be honest, I didn’t have faith in the White House’s involvement because of obvious historical reasons.  I would soon find my pessimistic view a waste of energy (for once).  Thanks to Public Allies, Director of Alumni Engagement, MacArthur Antigua for his relentless organizational skills for putting together a great two-day Human-Centered Design workshop to help 30 amazing brothers formulate our 100+ diverse ideas into 5-7 precise designs. 

Day 1: This was the first day I met all the brothers of the summit and based on the cosmic energy, greatness was upon us. This was a spiritual and therapeutic experience to have 30 brothers meet in DC to feel at peace.  But what made this space so special?  It was the diversity of the brothers that exemplified a subjective yet truthful identity of manhood.  Let me break this down:

  • Age: Men from ages 23- 50
  • Sexuality: homosexual, heterosexual, transgender
  • Religion: Christians, Rastafari, Muslims, African Spiritualist
  • Career: nonprofit sector, educators, activist, public sector, politics, revolutionaries
  •  Geography: Los Angeles, Compton, Cincinnati, Columbus, Milwaukee, Miami DC, Philly, Detroit, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Twin Cities, Orlando, Delaware, Iowa, phoenix, Chicago, and New Haven.
  • Differently abled: Deaf (He is also the governor’s appointee to the State Independent Living Council and Deaf Advocate).

Day 2: This day was the meat and potatoes of the Human Centered Design workshop.  While enjoying ourselves, we worked diligently for hours artistically creating a masterful blueprint and design.  What we came up with:

  • A national affinity group and think tank for Black Male Achievement
  • An initiative focusing on restorative justice, school to prison pipeline, and better re-entry programming.
  • Youth engagement to prepare students for the journey ahead of them. (if you start working with black males in high school or young adulthood, it might be too late.  Got to start early with all the issues our young people face).
  • National Activism Network
  • Fellowship program that focuses on Black male social entrepreneurship
  • National BMA Public Ally Cohort

Day 3: The last day we met with Senior Staff of the White house (sorry everyone but they have long titles): Jonathan Greenblatt, Special Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, Rafael Lopez, Senior Policy Advisor, Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, Noemi Levy, Policy Assistant, Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, Broderick Johnson, Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary, Heather Foster, Associate Director, White House Office of Public Engagement.

This is the day I was skeptical about our work on BMA, but it actually was a hopeful conversation.  We had an hour-long meeting that was very powerful because they asked us, the community warriors what the true issues and assets are in the black community.  In the next few months, we will continue to build community regardless of the outcome.