ABOVE PHOTO: winners of the bme leadership award are (from left): Alex Peay, Tyree Dumas, Greg Corbin, Eric Williams, Solomon Jones, Trabian Shorters (Knight Foundation), Brandon Jones, Russell Hicks, Reuben Jones, Ari Merratazon, Shawn White Seated left to right: Donna Frisbee Greenwood (Knight Foundation), Sheryl Lee Ralph.
Ten Philadelphia men – including a teacher, businessmen, authors and community activists – were honored last night as winners of the BME Leadership award, created to recognize black men who step up to lead the community.
“The award shines a light on a truth about Philadelphia that we need to remember: there are thousands of black men in this city who choose to make it a stronger and better place to live for all of us,” said Trabian Shorters one of the leaders behind the BME Challenge, which sponsors the award. “Perhaps if we tell their stories and others decide to support their efforts, you will see more and more black men and boys willing to follow their example.”
The BME Challenge is offering a combined $243,000 in Philadelphia to the winners to reward their work and inspire others to step up in their communities.
The funding will help veterans find services, provide therapy for autistic children, explore the experience of black men through a theater performance, and more. The winners’ stories, and information on their projects, are below. See and share videos of them at bmechallenge.org.
The BME Leadership award is one facet of the BME Challenge, which is pronounced “Be Me” and stands for Black Male Engagement. BME is led by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in partnership with the Open Society Foundations’ Campaign for Black Male Achievement. BME also operates in Detroit.
Earlier this year, BME asked local black men and boys to share their stories of what they do to make their communities stronger. More than 1,000 in Philadelphia gave personal video testimonials viewable at bmechallenge.org. Those who shared their stories were then eligible to apply for funding through the BME Leadership Award.
BME is an ongoing initiative that seeks to recognize, re-enforce and reward black males from all walks of life who engage others in making our communities stronger.
This spring BME will be looking for local partnerships to encourage more black males to be positively engaged in communities. This summer, BME will conduct another call for stories to be followed in the fall by a call for a new round of applications to the BME Leadership Award.
The winners of the 2012 BME Leadership Award are:
Merretazon is a Vietnam veteran who shared his life story in an anthology on Black veterans and has since worked to help those returning from war. The movie “Dead Presidents” was loosely based on his life.
Project: Merretazon will expand Pointman Soldiers Heart Ministry, a group of Vietnam and Desert Storm veterans, to do outreach to returning veterans from the Middle East to help find them counseling, job services and benefits.
Eric D. Williams
Williams is the father of three children, one of whom is autistic. When he couldn’t find services for autistic children in his neighborhood, he started his own.
Project: Williams will expand Project Elijah Empowering Autism, an after school program for middle spectrum autistic students ages 8-14. The group will open a new facility in Philadelphia in 2012, and will use the funding to offer speech, gross motor, recreation, music and life skills therapies.
Corbin is a teacher who integrates hip-hop, spoken word and poetry into his classroom lessons to help better reach students. He also founded the Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement.
Project: Corbin will launch The Legacy Project, which will explore the multi-layered experience of Black men through a one-man theatrical performance and community workshops.
Peay moved to Philadelphia for college, became a City Year Fellow and then founded the mentoring program Rising Sons.
Project: Peay will strengthen Rising Sons, an after school program where recent college graduates and college students 18-25 mentor boys at three Philadelphia public high schools, and also train them to mentor boys at two local elementary schools.
Brandon T. Jones
Jones, who was formerly incarcerated, now works with Philly Ceasefire to reduce the amount of shootings in North Philadelphia by mentoring high-risk youth and mobilizing the community.
Project: Jones will lead I Think Tank, which foster’s community-building skills in young people by having them assess community problems, follow up with projects, and team up with senior citizens.
After being incarcerated for 15 years, Jones promised to help his community. After his release, he fought and won custody of his son, then founded Frontline Dads to help others in similar situations deal with custody and child support issues. He also pursued a career as a therapist.
Project: Jones will launch the Frontline Dads Comprehensive Transformation Initiative, a mentoring/intervention program that fosters critical thinking sills, conflict resolution, creative expression and counseling.
Hicks works at the Enterprise Center, supporting minority-owned start-up businesses.
Project: Hicks will lead FLASH MOB, where young black men will learn how to create – and then implement- a business’ branding campaign via social media.
Jones, who originally dropped out of college, overcame addition and homelessness and pursued a degree and a career as an author of seven novels, an award-winning columnist and a professor at Temple University.
Project: Jones will expand Words on the Street literacy program, which aims to increase the literacy skills of more than 600 students through role modeling, workshops and the opportunity to have a story they write published in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Dumas is the founder of DollarBoyz, a youth entertainment company, and CEO of Youth Now On Top (Y-Not).
Project: Dumas will lead Y-Not Youth, an after school program that offers a safe haven, dance instruction and homework help.
Dr. Shawn White
White is a recording artist/producer and the project director for the University of Pennsylvania’s “Shape Up: Barbers Building Better Brothers program”, which conducts HIV/AIDS and violence prevention through barbers and their clients.
Project: White will launch Phreman Audio Studio Academy, which will teach audio recording and mixing to young people while promoting HIV/AIDS prevention and anti-violence strategies.
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