Ten Philadelphia men – including businessmen, authors, community activists and a teacher – have been named winners of the BME Leadership Award, created to honor 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 forward 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 part 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 (CBMA). 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 and written testimonials viewable at bmechallenge.org.Those who shared their stories were then eligible to apply for funding through the BME Leadership Award.
“There is no cavalry coming to save the day in black communities in America. The answers we’re looking for reside right within the hearts, hands and heads of community residents,” said Shawn Dove, Campaign Manager of CBMA. “BME recognizes black men and boys as assets to the community, not as problems to be solved, and we’re thrilled to be a partner in this strategy.”
BME is an ongoing initiative that seeks to recognize, reinforce 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 in Philadelphia are:
Winner: Greg Corbin
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. ($25,000)
Winner: Tyree Dumas
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. ($35,000)
Winner: Russell Hicks
Hicks owns Ebony Suns Enterprises, a consulting business that provides social media training for youth and social entrepreneurship programming to schools and nonprofits.
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. ($20,500)
Winner: Brandon Jones
Jones, who was formerly incarcerated, now works to reduce the frequency of shootings in North Philadelphia by mentoring high-risk youth and mobilizing the community.
Project: Jones will create a curriculum that helps prevent youth from going to prison, and returning citizens from going back to jail.
Winner: Reuben Jones
While serving a 15-year prison sentence, Jones fought and won custody of his son. After his release, he founded Frontline Dads to help others in similar situations deal with custody and child support issues. The group also conducts a mentoring program for at-risk youth. Jones pursued a career as a therapist and has a master of human services degree.
Project: Jones will launch the Frontline Dads Comprehensive Transformation Initiative, a mentoring/intervention program that fosters critical thinking skills, conflict resolution, creative expression and counseling. ($20,000)
Winner: Solomon Jones
Jones, who originally dropped out of college, overcame addiction 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 of more than 600 students through role modeling, workshops and the opportunity to write a story that will be published in The Philadelphia Inquirer. ($20,000)
Winner: Ari Merretazon
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 help returning veterans from the Middle East find counseling, job services and benefits. ($25,000)
Winner: Alex Peay
During his sophomore year in college, Peay founded the mentoring program Rising Sons. After losing interest in going to law school after graduation, he decided to bring his organization to Philadelphia and dedicate his life to help black males achieve their goals, dreams and ambitions.
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. ($4,650)
Winner: 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. ($38,700)
Winner: 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. ($19,300)