People

Documenting the roles African-American men play in Detroit

According to the Knight Foundation website, their Detroit strategy, “promotes an informed and engaged Detroit by creating an environment where all Detroiters – together – flourish and self-identify as leaders in their own communities.” 

Their latest undertaking is aimed at getting African-American men to share their stories of inspiration.  Called the BME Challenge (pronounced Be Me), they are asking African-American men to either tell how they are making a difference in their community or tell the stories of African-American men who are making a difference in Detroit and Philadelphia.

What separates this story gathering effort from the others is what happens after the submission deadline ends.  After September 30, 2011, the foundation will be going back to the people who submitted stories and ask them what they would do with additional funding for their projects.  Eventually the community will help select which projects are funded.

“What’s powerful about this is that we are not pre-supposing how a community will change.  We live in an environment where serendipity drives community change and it would be counter-productive for our foundation to pick an issue to focus on,” explains Rishi Jaitly, Detroit program manager for Knight Foundation.

According to Jaitly, focusing on Africa-American males for this project is significant because it is a shift in the narrative about their role in our community.

“In the African-American community, we have many great men and great assets.  That is not always a part of the narrative,” he notes.  “This is flipping the script of what the African-American male’s role in the community is, we are looking at them as assets.”

Since the website launched July 31, 55 stories have poured onto the BME Challenge website.  Anthony Rogers wrote about his experiences starting a mentoring program at his church that meets with young adults every other week to do community service.  High school senior Breland Liggons helps his community by shoveling snow for the elderly in his neighborhood.

Entries to the website are snippets of what these men do to impact their community.  Yet by submitting them to the BME Challenge website, they are offering a different look at the role African-American men play in their community.  And ultimately, their submissions could play a key role in expanding needed services in their community.  Jailty is confident that engaging the community in this way will help ensure programs are sustainable in a way that dollars alone cannot achieve.

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